Foreign language immersion program could be expanded in BR

Advocate file photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- The Polk Elementary School campus would become the new home of the Baton Rouge Foreign Language Academic Immersion Magnet under a proposal by East Baton Rouge Parish school Superintendent Bernard Taylor. Show caption
Advocate file photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- The Polk Elementary School campus would become the new home of the Baton Rouge Foreign Language Academic Immersion Magnet under a proposal by East Baton Rouge Parish school Superintendent Bernard Taylor.

Polk Elementary could be new home

Instead of moving the popular Baton Rouge Foreign Language Academic Immersion Magnet from its home off South Boulevard, Superintendent Bernard Taylor is now suggesting replicating and expanding the school a mile south on the campus of Polk Elementary.

Taylor plans to lay out his ideas at the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday. The meeting is being held at the School Board Office, 1050 S. Foster Drive.

The board also is weighing giving a $300 “one-time salary supplement” to support workers who did not benefit from a similar temporary pay bump that teachers and other educators earned earlier in the year.

The fate of BR FLAIM has vexed the board for years. Its downtown Baton Rouge campus, formerly known as South Boulevard Elementary, can house only the 300 students who go there now and is in need of expensive renovations.

In 2009, parents there successfully persuaded the board to not force them to move into the new Dufrocq Elementary, but board members pointedly told them that they did not intend to spend much money to maintain the school’s dilapidated facility.

On Nov. 7, Taylor proposed moving that program to Polk Elementary. He’s since met with parents at both schools and, instead, is proposing to keep BR FLAIM intact but expand its popular Spanish program to Polk and add a Mandarin Chinese foreign language immersion program at Polk, as well. The new programs at Polk would start with kindergarten and first grade and add a grade a year until they reach fifth grade.

Craig Freeman, a board member for that area, said that parents had expressed concern about moving to Polk, a school with a capacity or 383 students, not much more bigger than BR FLAIM, and the disruption of moving to a new location. Freeman said that finding a permanent home for BR FLAIM may involve asking taxpayers in the future to finance a new building, but he said that depends on the school system’s finances and whether more areas successfully break away and form new independent school districts.

“The long-term plan is to ask for a better place for FLAIM in the near future,” Freeman said.

Taylor is still proposing reassigning Polk’s 227 students to nearby Buchanan and University Terrace Elementary school. However, he is calling for a slow phase-out, starting with next year’s kindergartners. Older students would be allowed to finish at Polk. University Terrace would slowly take over Polk’s current gifted program in a similar, gradual manner, starting with prekindergarten and kindergarten.

What has yet to be decided is whether the two schools would have one principal or whether the new Polk foreign language immersion program would have its own leadership.

“It’s still in flux right now,” said Keith Bromerly, the new communications director for the school system.

Taylor is also proposing spending $3.1 million this summer on renovations at Polk, including a better air conditioning and heating system. Several board members have said they want to settle the future of Polk before green-lighting the renovations.

Adding a Mandarin Chinese program at Polk would cost an estimated $194,000 in 2014-15.

The one-time salary supplement for support workers was added to the agenda for Thursday’s meeting late Wednesday. Taylor has yet to release details of who would receive it, when they would receive it and how much it would all cost. State law prohibits giving government employees bonuses but allows for one-time adjustments of salary schedules. In flush years, the school system has given its employees salary supplements in time for the holidays.

In a Nov. 27 interview with The Advocate, Taylor said he’s looking at ways to adjust the salaries of several classes of employees, including workers in increasingly in-demand technology fields, and making partially whole teachers who lost pay during past salary freezes.