EBR board to hear Taylor blueprint for improving schools

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board will get a chance Monday to weigh in on Superintendent Bernard Taylor’s blueprint for improving school achievement.

Taylor has offered proposals meant to answer school system critics by shifting more authority to principals, involving communities more in decision-making and expanding the school choices available to parents.

Taylor presented “A Blueprint for Transforming Achievement in East Baton Rouge Parish” to the School Board on March 20 and will lay out the plan in more detail on Monday.

It revives an idea Taylor first discussed in November 2012 of dividing the school system into regions that would include “families of schools.” Parents would be allowed to pick from multiple schools within the region, not just the one their child is zoned to attend.

In addition, the regions would have advisory councils that would contribute to decisions about instruction, selection of principals, budgeting and school activities.

Principals would gain increased autonomy in making “building-level decisions” related to instruction, technology, professional development, school-level budgets, selecting staff and other school matters.

Taylor has been developing the ideas for months in response to efforts to create a breakaway school district in southeast Baton Rouge and more recently in answer to legislative efforts to restructure the school system.

Monday’s School Board meeting starts at 5 p.m. at the School Board Office, 1050 S. Foster Drive. The board is not planning to vote on the proposals, though some, if later approved, would take effect with the start of the 2014-15 school year.

Taylor plans to shop these ideas around at a series of community meetings, what he’s calling “listening workshops,” for more feedback.

Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, has filed SB484, which would divide the school system into four subdistricts overseen by four deputy superintendents.

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber is developing similar legislation to restructure the East Baton Rouge Parish school system to create more school- and community-level control and, at the same time, shrink the power of the School Board and superintendent. Tuesday is the deadline to file a bill.

Taylor proposes decentralizing the Central Office to the families of schools in consultation with “stakeholders” along with a re-evaluation of all of the cost and funding options for all “central functions.”

Another big shift is in how schools would be funded.

The School Board would develop a formula for the “equitable distribution of funding” among all schools, regardless of type, whether magnet schools or schools that receive federal anti-poverty funding.

Board member Jerry Arbour said Taylor briefed him Thursday on the proposals and said he’s fine with them. Arbour, however, said he’s doubtful they will do much to appease supporters of a southeast breakaway school district.

Supporters of creating an independent school district in the past few months have focused their energy on first incorporating a city of St. George out of much of the unincorporated portions of East Baton Rouge Parish.

“They never really gave EBR a chance before,” said Arbour. “I don’t see them giving EBR a chance now.”

Arbour, however, said it’s possible that over time they could come to terms with remaining in the school system and appreciate what Taylor is seeking to do.

Arbour said he likes another part of Taylor’s proposal, which would create service centers in different regions. He said the school system covers a lot of geographical territory and having help available closer to home makes sense.

“It is kind of difficult for a parent in Northeast to go all the way to South Foster Drive. It’d be better if they could get it resolved right in the community,” he said.