EBR School Board may shrink if one of 5 maps approved

A narrow majority of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board agreed Thursday to introduce five new district maps that could shrink the 11-member board from just one to as many as four fewer members.

The board, however, is not planning to vote on any of these maps until July 24.

If a new map is approved then, it would be in place in time before qualifying in August for the Nov. 4 elections.

If all are rejected, the 11-member plan approved in 2012 after the 2010 U.S. Census remains in effect.

Between now and July 24, the public will get a chance to review the five maps. The School Board plans to run advertisements in The Advocate showing the maps, along with a general summary. A state law, dating back to 1977, also requires that the board make the maps available in advance for public inspection.

Thursday’s debate was brief but charged.

“If you want to reduce the size of the board, you can just resign from the board,” board member Vereta Lee challenged her colleagues.

Board member Tarvald Smith noted that the board paid about $12,000 in 2012 for new maps and he questioned the need to remap again.

The vote was 6-4 to introduce the five maps. Here’s how the vote went:

For: Connie Bernard, Jill Dyason, Craig Freeman, Barbara Freiberg, David Tatman and Evelyn Ware-Jackson.

AGAINST: Lee, Mary Lynch, Kenyetta Nelson-Smith and Smith.

Absent: Jerry Arbour.

Thursday’s vote mirrors the 6-5 vote on May 1 to hire Redistricting LLC to redraw School Board districts in a move prompted by unsuccessful legislative efforts to force the School Board to shrink its size.

Dannie Garrett III, an attorney with Redistricting LLC, which handled previous remaps for the board, had prepared 11 maps in advance of Thursday’s meeting.

Here are highlights of the five maps introduced Thursday. They are named based on the board member who requested them, the number of districts they call for and the number of the version.

Tatman 7-Member Plan, Version 2: Population range of districts, 52,693 to 55,569. Three of seven districts are majority black. Incumbents Lee and Nelson-Smith, Freeman and Ware-Jackson, Smith and Lynch, Arbour and Tatman are pitted against each other.

Tatman 9-Member Plan, Version 1: Population range of districts, 39,890 to 43,744. Four of nine districts are majority black. Incumbents Arbour and Lynch, and Freeman and Ware-Jackson are pitted against each other.

Freeman 9-Member Plan, Version 7: Population range of districts, 39,866 to 43,744. Four of nine districts are majority black. Incumbents Freeman and Ware-Jackson, and Arbour and Tatman are pitted against each other.

Group3 9-Member Plan, Version 1: Population range, 40,206 to 43,366. Four of nine districts are majority black. Incumbents Freeman and Ware-Jackson, and Bernard and Tatman are pitted against each other. (Group3 consists of Arbour, Lee and Nelson-Smith.)

Group3 10-Member Plan, Version 1: Population range of districts, 36,355 to 39,391. Four of 10 districts are majority black. Incumbents Freeman and Ware-Jackson are pitted against each other.

The board plans to post the maps soon on its website, www.ebrschools.org.

The 11-member board map approved in 2012 calls for districts with an average population of around 34,000, with five districts majority black. Freeman said he is not planning to run for re-election. Lynch was appointed in May, replacing deceased Randy Lamana, and she said she has not yet decided whether she will run this fall.

Proponents of shrinking the board, including the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, say it would make the board more efficient and save tens of thousands of dollars a year in board member expenses.

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

Editor's note: This article was changed on June 6, 2014, to correctly reflect that incumbents Jerry Arbour and Mary Lynch would be pitted against each other in TATMAN 9-MEMBER PLAN, VERSION 1.