Breakway district leaders ‘confident’ of victory

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Joshua Hoffpauir, left, Lionel Rainey III, and Norman Browning, leaders of the proposed Southeast Baton Rouge Community School District group, Local Schools for Local Children, speak Tuesday at Cafe Americain during the monthly East Baton Rouge Parish Republican Party luncheon. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Joshua Hoffpauir, left, Lionel Rainey III, and Norman Browning, leaders of the proposed Southeast Baton Rouge Community School District group, Local Schools for Local Children, speak Tuesday at Cafe Americain during the monthly East Baton Rouge Parish Republican Party luncheon.

Supporters of a new breakaway school district in southeast Baton Rouge on Tuesday expressed confidence that they will succeed on the second try in their effort to gain independence from the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.

“To say we are confident is an understatement,” said Lionel Rainey III, speaking at a small luncheon sponsored by East Baton Rouge Parish Republican Party.

Last year, legislation called for moving 10 public schools in the parish school system to the newly created Southeast Baton Rouge Community School District. The proposed district would have extended southeast from the Interstate 10/12 split, south of I-12 and east of I-10 to the parish lines. If created, it would be the fifth public school district in the parish.

That legislation passed the Senate, but stalled in the House. The biggest hurdle was a constitutional amendment, which requires a two-thirds majority in each chamber, or 70 votes in the House. The plan got 66 votes on the first tally, then dropped to 61 on the second and final try.

“We really came one vote shy,” Rainey said, “and that triggered three more to vote no.”

The Legislature is convening April 8, and state Sen. Mack “Bodi” White, R-Central, has already filed a notice of intent to file again his legislation, saying it will be very similar to the legislation that was debated last year.

Rainey and Norman Browning, spokesman and president, respectively, for the group Local Schools for Local Children, addressed about 25 people Tuesday gathered at Café Americain.

Browning said the opponents of the proposed district were united in defending the status quo.

“They’re failing our children and have been for a long time,” Browning said.

Rainey said the parents in popular selective programs run by the parish school system are protecting their interests at the expense of others.

“These magnet and gifted parents, they are the lucky ones; they hit the lottery,” he said.“Our goal is to provide a good education for all children,” Rainey added.

Rainey and Browning struck a more cautious and conciliatory tone on Jan. 15 at a public meeting for their group at Woodlawn Baptist Church.

At that Jan. 15 meeting, Rainey, Browning and White, who had a conflict and couldn’t make Tuesday’s luncheon, noted that the parish school system had improved overall academically, moving up from a “D” to a “C” ranking, highlighted the obstacles in getting a bill passed this year, and expressed a willingness to negotiate with East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Bernard Taylor.

On Tuesday, Browning said he’s tired of waiting for the next superintendent to fix the schools, that parents are imploring him to go forward and are threatening to leave if the new district does not go through.

“Have you all seen any changes?” Browning asked rhetorically. “I haven’t seen any.”

Last year, Southeast supporters were criticized for the vagueness of their plans, noting that they would just copy Central and Zachary, which broke away in 2003 and 2007 and became top-ranked school districts in Louisiana. Baker also left the parish school system in 2003.

Parents of children in magnet and gifted programs, many of them in the breakaway opposition group, One Community, One School District, said they did not see evidence that the new Southeast district would offer schools as good as the ones they would have to give up.

At the Jan. 15 meeting, in response to such criticism, Southeast supporters laid what they described as a “curriculum” for the new district. It suggested changes for all 10 schools they would take over, including the creation of new magnet programs, the preservation of gifted-and-talented services, as well as more focus on areas, such as foreign languages and math and science.

The group promised to post this curriculum on its website, http://www.localschoolsforlocalchildren.com/, but did not. Rainey said the plan had been posted at one point on the organization’s Facebook group, but it was not there Tuesday afternoon. He said the organization is revamping its main website.

Even if White’s legislation is approved by the Legislature this year, the new school district would still require a statewide vote to amend the state constitution and the next statewide election is not until 2014.

Consequently, the earliest a new southeast Baton Rouge school district could start is in fall 2015.