Allowing a slice of East Baton Rouge Parish’s southeastern section to form its own school district would cripple the public school system financially and possibly lead to new desegregation litigation, opponents of the group said Tuesday night.
“This splits the parish racially, and it splits the parish economically,” said Belinda Davis, an assistant professor of political science at LSU who spoke to about 50 parents and other community members attending an informational meeting hosted at the parish’s main library by One Community, One Voice, a group opposed to the plan.
“This is a collection of neighborhoods, not a city,” Davis said
Creation of the district would set a precedent for “country club school districts,” Davis said.
Senate Bill 563 cleared the House Appropriations Committee on Monday. The bill, along with a proposed constitutional amendment that is also awaiting a House vote, are both needed for the change to move forward.
The ballot measure, Senate Bill 209, requires 70 votes, or a two-thirds majority.
“The business community is very concerned about this,” said Danny Montalero, who spoke on behalf of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. “Nothing is more important for job creation than education.”
Montalero, who chairs the Chamber’s Education Issues Council, said the full implications of the plan are not yet understood.
“Our biggest fear is that this will become a reality without citizens understanding the consequences,” he said. It would be a “minor train wreck” if the district were allowed to secede from the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.
Both Montalero and Davis said the creation of the new district could lead to a revival of desegregation litigation in East Baton Rouge Parish.
“The Department of Justice will be paying attention to us,” Davis said.
The boundaries for the proposed Southeast Baton Rouge Community School District would be from the Interstate 10/Interstate 12 split to the parish line. If approved by the Legislature and voters statewide and parishwide, the 10-school district would become the parish’s fourth. Central, Zachary and Baker have their own school systems following voter-approved splits from the parish school system.
Proponents of the new school system said the arguments presented at the meeting were nothing new.
More than half of the students in the new district would be minority students, said Lionel Rainey, a spokesman for Local Schools for Local Children, a group that supports the plan.
“We’ve heard their arguments loud and clear,” said Rainey, who attended Tuesday night’s meeting. “It’s not about money, it’s not about race, it’s about power and control.”
Several parents who attended the meeting expressed anger about the plan.
“I am very concerned that it will go through,” Patty Herke said. “East Baton Rouge Parish is doing a lot of good stuff, and this will divide the city.”
“To be perfectly honest, I think its more racially motivated,” Ronnie Bell said. “They are saving their kids but not thinking about the kids they are leaving behind.”
Neither Herke nor Bell live in the proposed district but said they send their children to public schools in East Baton Rouge parish and are concerned about the impact the plan would have on the entire school system.