EBR board approves new magnet programs, other changes

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board approved creating new magnet programs Thursday at Polk and Brookstown elementary schools.

The board also agreed to a proposal to redraw attendance lines for Woodlawn Elementary, but only if the changes are phased in to allow current students to stay.

The changes take effect with the start of the 2014-15 school year in August.

Taken together, the three changes would cost an estimated $650,000 the first year and almost $2.3 million over three years. That’s in addition to $3.1 million in renovations planned this summer at Polk and $5 million at Brookstown.

Expanding magnet programs can generate additional revenue in the form of increased state funding, roughly $3,800 for every new child who enrolls in the school system.

Or it can save the system from losing money, up to $10,000 per student, by persuading children to stay in the public school system.

Polk will add foreign language immersion programs in Spanish and Mandarin Chinese to the school.

It also would gradually reassign the 227 students attending Polk to nearby Buchanan and University Terrace elementary schools, starting with next year’s kindergartners.

The proposed new programs at Polk augment similar programs at the nearby Baton Rouge Foreign Language Academic Immersion Magnet, or BR FLAIM, which has a long waiting list, particularly for parents who want their children immersed in Spanish. Its old campus off South Boulevard, however, has space for just 300 students.

The Polk changes passed 10-1, with board member Connie Bernard casting the dissenting vote.

Bernard said she doubted a new foreign language program at Polk would attract many students and questioned the wisdom of dividing foreign language immersion between two campuses.

Thursday’s board vote on Brookstown was unanimous, meaning the old elementary school will be converted to a traditional middle school with an estimated 260 students alongside a new magnet program with about 225 students.

The Career Academy, a charter school, uses the old Brookstown Elementary campus and will have to move.

Having a traditional program at Brookstown allows some students who in years past would have gone to Prescott Middle to stay closer to home.

The changes approved at Woodlawn Elementary will free up space for future growth, but at a much slower pace than originally envisioned.

Board Vice President Tarvald Smith pressed successfully to have the changes in attendance lines phased in so that up to 148 students who live between Perkins Road and Interstate 10 will be able to stay, but children entering kindergarten will shift to Jefferson Terrace. After six years, all those children will move to Jefferson Terrace.

The zone changes call for an immediate shift of 78 Jefferson Terrace students to Westminster Elementary to clear space for the incoming Woodlawn children.

Several Woodlawn parents who protested the change.

“I moved my child from Jefferson Terrace to Woodlawn,” said parent Monica Williams. “I don’t want to move back.”

The vote was 8-3 with board members Vereta Lee, Kenyetta Nelson-Smith and David Tatman voting in the minority. Woodlawn Elementary has almost 800 students but is at capacity only in second grade.

The school is in the district of board member Jill Dyason, who said more space is needed there to accommodate current and future growth and to grow specialized programs at the school.

In other action, the board voted unanimously to call a special election May 3 to ask voters to renew for 10 more years two property taxes that levy 2.78 and 1.86 mills, respectively.