Taylor presents plan to counter legislative attempts to restructure EBR school system

In answer to legislative efforts to restructure the school system, East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Bernard Taylor revived his idea Thursday of turning the school system into “families of schools” where most students could pick from multiple schools, not just the one they’re zoned for.

Taylor’s latest idea is create a total of five such families.

In November 2012, Taylor originally suggested four such families. Only one, in Scotlandville, affecting three elementary schools, is in effect now.

Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, has filed SB484, which would divide the school system into four subdistricts overseen by four deputy superintendents.

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber has announced it is developing similar legislation to restructure the East Baton Rouge Parish school system to create more school- and community-level control, and at the same time, shrink the power of the School Board and superintendent. BRAC has until April 1 to develop such legislation and persuade a lawmaker to sponsor it.

Taylor is calling his latest proposal “A Blueprint for Transforming Achievement in East Baton Rouge Parish.”

He said he plans to post it online Friday and is asking the School Board to hold a special meeting to debate it.

Here are a few other features of the “blueprint:”

An advisory council from each region that will contribute to decisions about instruction, selection of principals, budgeting and school activities.

Autonomy for principals in making “building-level decisions” related to, among other things, instruction, technology, professional development, school-level budgets and selecting staff.

Decentralize the Central Office to the families of schools in consultation with “stakeholders.”

Equitable distribution of funding among all schools regardless of type, whether they be magnet schools or schools that receive Title I federal funding.

Board member Barbara Freiberg groused that she had asked for such a plan 20 months ago but nevertheless was happy with what Taylor presented.

“I really like this plan,” Freiberg said.

Board Vice President Tarvald Smith said he’s fine with it but notes much of it is not new.

“I see a lot of things the district is currently doing,” he said.

Board member Craig Freeman suggested going so far as closing the Central Office and turning it into a prekindergarten center.

Taylor responded with cautious enthusiasm, saying he needs to see if that’s feasible.

“That really wasn’t meant to be a joke,” he said. “I like that idea.”

Freeman also threw out another idea, to shrink the size of the School Board from 11 member to a smaller number, five, seven or nine. It’s an idea similar to one BRAC has been pushing for years and may be a feature of its forthcoming legislation.

Board member Randy Lamana, however, reacted badly. Endorsed by the chamber when he first ran in 2007, Lamana became a target of the business organization as it spent thousands of dollars in 2010 trying unsuccessfully to defeat him. Lamana said he thinks an 11-member board is just fine.