One Community decries proposals for EBR schools

The leader of an organization that previously opposed attempts to create a breakaway school district decried a variety of proposals targeting the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.

The president of One Community One School District, Belinda Davis, told a small group of parents Monday evening that sweeping school reforms are being proposed absent any input from parents.

What’s worse, she said, is some of the proposed legislation would remove the need for a constitutional amendment to give school district funding, taking a vote of the people out of the equation.

For the past two years, state Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, has proposed but failed to pass bills to create a new school system carved out of the southeast part of the parish. Davis’ group has argued both years the move would financially hurt the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.

This year, White proposed a bill to break the parish school system into four subdistricts, each with its own deputy superintendent.

Davis said the bill, aside from being overly vague, establishes unfunded mandates because it requires each subdistrict to have at least one magnet program each at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

She said dividing the district into four geographic attendance zones also racially segregates the district, which could attract intervention from the U.S Department of Justice.

“You cannot ignore race, even if it’s not driven by race, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have consequence for race,” she said.

She said the north district would be an almost completely black, the midcity district would be diverse, and the south and southeast districts would be predominantly white.

White’s bill does not outline the boundaries of the district, it only names the regions generally. It says the deputy superintendents would determine the attendance zones.

Last week, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber announced it is developing legislation that would change the governing structure and give more autonomy to principals.

BRAC officials said they support local control, but disagree with subdistricts proposed in White’s bill.

Davis has said she is concerned BRAC, like other legislators who are proposing education bills, is making plans to revamp the school system behind closed doors.

“We believe those plans should be revealed to us before they introduce legislation so we have an opportunity to say what we like and what we don’t like,” she said. “Once it becomes legislation, it’s too late.”

Bills must be filed by April 1.

She also expressed concern that BRAC intends to push for more charter schools in East Baton Rouge Parish, noting that charter schools compete with and reduce funding to traditional public schools.

State Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, attended the meeting and said he and other members of the legislative delegation met earlier with BRAC, and were working together to craft a proposed bill.

He said he is disappointed that BRAC hasn’t produced an actual proposed bill to discuss and that more stake holders weren’t involved in the process earlier. He said he had to demand “a seat at the table.”

Two other proposed bills attempt to eliminate the need for a constitutional amendment in order for a new school district to receive state funding.

Last year, White’s bill, which required a majority vote, won final approval.

However, the needed constitutional amendment, which required two-thirds approval in both chambers, failed in the state House.

The constitutional amendment would have sent the issue to a statewide ballot, where it would have required the support of a majority of voters statewide and a majority in the East Baton Rouge Parish school district.