The sponsor of a plan that would pave the way for a new school district in southeast Baton Rouge said he thinks the Louisiana Senate-passed package has a bright future.
“I think there is a very good chance it could pass in the House.” said state Sen. Bodi White, R-Central.
But Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus Chairwoman Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, said she and others will fight the plan.
“I am not for the breakaway district,” Smith said. “This is not what I understand reform is supposed to be about.”
White’s proposal includes two bills.
One is Senate Bill 563, which spells out details of the changes, requires majority approval.
It passed the Senate last week 30-8.
Six of the Senate’s nine black members opposed the measure.
The other is Senate Bill 299, which is a constitutional amendment that would be submitted to voters if the Legislature approves White’s plan.
It requires the support of two-thirds of the House and Senate, which is 70 in the House and 26 in the Senate, and eventually a majority of the state and parish voters, for the plan to take effect.
The Senate approved the measure 29-7 last week.
Both will face scrutiny from the House Education Committee.
The bill that spells out details of the plan may also be sent to the House Appropriations Committee to weigh its financial impact.
White said one reason he is optimistic about prospects for the bills is because lawmakers generally defer to the wishes of the area delegation, in this case Baton Rouge.
“This is a local bill,” he said.
However, in this case the local delegation has divisions, as it did in the Senate.
The House consists of 58 Republicans, 45 Democrats and 2 independents.
That means if the vote breaks along party lines, or even close to it, backers will need some support from Democrats.
The Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus has 23 members.
Asked if she expects the entire caucus to oppose the bills Smith said, “We are working on it.”
House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, said White’s bills stand a good chance of passing in the House.
“Whatever they feel is important to grow their individual, local school system in their area, if they feel like that is what is needed, then you’ve got to respect their decision,” Kleckley said.
White has repeatedly said the plan stems from the fervent pleas of parents who have given up on the East Baton Rouge Parish school system showing drastic improvements anytime soon.
The proposed district would extend southeast from the Interstate 10/12 split, south of I-12 and east of I-10 to the parish lines.
The change would move 10 public schools in the East Baton Rouge Parish system into a breakaway district, which would be the fourth of its kind in the Baton Rouge area.
Included would be seven elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school.
They are Cedarcrest-Southmoor, Jefferson Terrace, Parkview, Shenandoah, Wedgewood, Westminster and Woodlawn elementary schools; Woodlawn and Southeast middle schools and Woodlawn High School.
Overall, the East Baton Rouge school system is rated “D” under the state’s new letter grade system.
The 10 that would be moved under White’s plan include one rated “A,” one “B,” three “C’s” and five “D’s.”
About 6,800 students attend the schools, and about 55 percent are minority students, White said.
Smith noted that the East Baton Rouge Parish school system just hired a new superintendent, and the state recently passed legislation that is supposed to improve student performance.
“This is just not the time for it to come about,” she said of a new district.
Domoine Rutledge, general counsel for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, said he thinks opponents have a better chance in the House, especially as lawmakers learn more details of the proposal.
“What we are doing with this legislation is appeasing 15 percent to the peril of the remaining 85 percent,” Rutledge said.
The East Baton Rouge Parish school system has about 43,000 students.
Nearly 7 of every 10 students attend a “D” or “F” school, according to the key support group called Local Schools for Local Children.
Smith and other opponents say another concern is that the proposed district is simply a collection of neighborhoods, not a municipality, and that this one could pave the way for a rapid series of similar moves.
“This sets a big precedent,” she said.
White said nothing in the state Constitution requires school districts to be limited to parish or municipal boundaries.