Legislator defends St. George, school plans

Though both issues are entwined, state Sen. Bodi White said Thursday the effort to improve East Baton Rouge Parish schools is separate from the effort to turn unincorporated parts of the parish into the city of St. George.

“Some people want to link them together,” said White, R-Central.

But his handling of legislation for residents who want to create St. George is not connected to his agreement to work with Baton Rouge state Reps. Steve Carter, a Republican, and Dalton Honoré, a Democrat, to revamp the large school systems.

White said he agreed to hold off on his own education reoganization bills, which would help create a separate school system for the southeastern portions of East Baton Rouge Parish, to focus on legislation that he says would improve the schools not just in Baton Rouge but across the state.

At the same time, White said he would continue to push Senate Bill 638, which would set up a transition should residents of unincorporated sections of southeast and south East Baton Rouge Parish vote to create the city.

That said, parents in the area started pushing to incorporate into a new city when not enough legislators would agree to the constitutional amendment necessary to authorize a school district that would break away from the East Baton Rouge Parish system, White said.

“I’ve had a lot of talks, a lot of discussions, a lot of ways we could fix this. I really don’t think those talks would have ever got anywhere if the 500-pound gorilla hadn’t got into the room, and that’s St. George. It brought everybody to the table,” White said at a news conference outside the Governor’s Office on the fourth floor of the State Capitol.

“The first thing to try to resolve our differences in this parish is to fix the school system and that’s the path we’re headed down right now,” White said.

White said he would work on passing House Bill 1177, sponsored by Carter and Honoré.

The legislation is very similar to his Senate Bill 636, which he will press through the process at the same time to ensure one of the measures can get passed before the session adjourns on June 2.

Both bills would increase authority of school principals and reorganize how public schools are administered.

White said the studies he has seen indicate that smaller and local school districts work better.

“I agreed to put a hold on my legislation and let’s see what we can do” with HB1177 or SB636, White said.

The measure White agreed to hold is Senate Bill 484, which would create new subdistricts for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, which would be called North, Mid-City, Southeast and South.

White’s Senate Bill 354 is a proposed constitutional amendment that basically would allow the Legislature to create public school districts, without having to go to a statewide constitutional vote, and have them funded under the Minimum Foundation Program formula.

SB354 was approved March 31 by the Senate Education Committee and is scheduled for a debate and a vote by the full Senate on Monday.

White said he would hold the legislation back to see how the alternative legislation progresses. “If this falls apart, I’ll be pushing” the constitutional amendment again, White said.