New group enters fray on future of EBR school system

Just minutes before the Louisiana Legislature went into session Monday, a new group announced it will be speaking out in the coming weeks about a key issue the lawmakers will take up: the future of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.

In a news release, Tim Johnson, the hired spokesman for the new group, The Committee For Progress, indicated the group wants to shift the conversation from the petition drive to create the city of St. George to dealing with problems in public education that gave rise to that effort.

“While we do not support the effort to incorporate a new city, we are very supportive of those who are aggressively working to recreate a community school system based on local control by parents, principals and neighborhoods,” Johnson said.

The Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office shows the committee was incorporated Wednesday. Its president and director is Mike Polito, president and chief executive officer of MAPP Construction. Its secretary is Richard Lipsey, owner of Lipsey’s, a national sporting goods distributor, and a member of the Louisiana Board of Regents.

In the release, Johnson complimented the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s announcement Friday that it is developing legislation to reduce the power of the School Board and superintendent, while increasing school- and community-level power.

“BRAC’s efforts offer a great deal of promise,” Johnson said, “and we will be watching and commenting on these efforts as well as other proposals made by various other concerned officials.”

Johnson is a member of BRAC’s board of directors, but he said The Committee for Progress has no connection with BRAC or affiliated groups.

“We are not connected to anyone,” he said.

Asked if it has any connections to this new group, Adam Knapp, BRAC’s president and chief executive officer, said he knew these people were talking about forming a group, which they did on their own.

Knapp also said BRAC is prepared to work with anyone “committed to change.”

“We appreciate their support and enthusiasm to bring about meaningful change,” Knapp said.

Johnson would not release any of the names of other members besides Polito and Lipsey. Johnson said the group has fewer than 100 members but is growing and has a working group leading it.

He said it has been in development for the past couple of months, but he was hired a few weeks ago. He said the group will soon have a website and a social media presence.

He also said The Committee for Progress is organizing itself for tax purposes as a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) social welfare organization.

Such organizations, according to the IRS, are not required to disclose their donors.

Johnson said the group will actively recruit members, raise money and comment on pending legislation. He said the group seeks “fundamental and transformational change” but is inclusive and welcoming to a wide variety of reform approaches.

“We want solutions and we want real change,” he said.

Johnson also said the new group has no connection to Community Issues Inc., a group formed in October that is fighting the St. George incorporation effort.