EBR School Board to consider shrinking the board

Redistricting plans could drop districts

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board will consider new maps Thursday night that could shrink its membership from 11 members to nine, or perhaps fewer.

On May 1, a deeply divided board voted 6-5 to hire Redistricting LLC to redraw School Board maps 18 months after the board last redrew lines for board districts in the wake of the 2010 census. The effort was prompted by thus far unsuccessful legislative efforts to force the School Board to shrink its size.

On Thursday, the board is reconvening to introduce reapportionment plans that Redistricting LLC has developed, at least any the board deems worthy of consideration.

“Any member can introduce a plan at tomorrow’s (Thursday’s) meeting,” School Board President David Tatman explained. “Once introduced, they will be made available to the public.”

Tatman said any plans introduced will be advertised in The Advocate, and a still-to-be-determined time will be set aside for the public to quiz demographers about the maps. He said he’s not planning to hold a vote on any plans, though, until early July.

Thursday’s meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. at the School Board Office, 1050 S. Foster Drive.

The idea is to have new maps in place in time for qualifying for the Nov. 4 elections. Qualifying takes place Aug. 20-22.

Tatman expects board members will introduce plans for nine districts, as many as four versions. He also expects one seven-member map will be introduced.

Proponents of shrinking the board, including the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, say it would mean the board could work more efficiently and would save tens of thousands of dollars a year from having to pay fewer board members. They also note the successful breaking away of Baker, Central and Zachary to form independent school districts means parish board members have less territory to cover and therefore should reduce their membership.

Opponents, including almost half of the School Board, say it’s unnecessary, would result in large, hard-to-represent districts and amounts to a power grab by local business leaders hoping to unseat board members they disagree with.

The School Board did shrink from 12 to 11 members in 2010 in the wake of Central’s exit.

Reducing the board further is made easier this time because at least one board member, Craig Freeman in District 6, has announced he is not seeking re-election. Tatman said he has spoken with two other board members, whom he won’t name, who may not run either.

Also, District 11 lacks an incumbent after Randy Lamana died on April 16 from an apparent heart attack. Mary Lynch was appointed on May 1 to serve the rest of Lamana’s unexpired term, which ends Dec. 31. Lynch hasn’t announced whether she will run in the fall.

The board considered shrinking in 2012 when it was last debating the topic, but ultimately opted to stay at 11 members. Redistricting LLC did draw up maps for nine districts, maps that were left on the shelf. One version would have pitted Lamana against Kenyetta Nelson-Smith, Jerry Arbour against Tatman, Vereta Lee against Tarvald Smith and left one district without an incumbent.

Another change is that in 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. That means election districts in once racially segregated states like Louisiana no longer have to get preclearance for new election districts from the U.S. Justice Department.