House to vote on proposed EBR breakaway district plan
A bill that would pave the way for a breakaway school district in southeast Baton Rouge was cleared Monday for a showdown vote in the full Louisiana House.
The measure, Senate Bill 563, won approval in the House Appropriations Committee, which was asked to review the financial impact of the change.
The vote was 11-8 and generally broke along party lines, with Republicans mostly behind the measure and Democrats opposed.
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, which is Senate Bill 299, requires 70 votes, or a two-thirds majority.
Asked if he has the needed support, state Sen. Bodi White, R-Central said “It’s doable. I think we can get the votes.”
However, White needs Democratic support to get the 70 votes he needs.
The House has 58 Republicans, 45 Democrats and 2 independents.
The package won approval in the House Education Committee last week.
The bills passed the Senate 30-8 and 29-7.
White said he does not know when the full House will debate the plan.
The session ends on June 4.
The new district would extend southeast from the Interstate 10/12 split, south of I-12 and east of I-10 to the parish lines.
It would includes 10 schools.
Backers contend the change is needed because the East Baton Rouge Parish school system has failed students for years.
“What’s the effect of not educating kids,” White said during committee talks on the financial impact of the legislation.
Opponents argued that the change would leave the district with an enrollment that consists mostly of black students from poor families.
“You cannot do this to this school system and expect it to survive and thrive,” said Domoine Rutledge, general counsel for the East Baton Rouge Parish School District and one of the leaders of the opposition.
If White’s plan wins final legislative approval, it would be submitted to voters on Nov. 6.
The proposal requires majority support statewide and in East Baton Rouge Parish to take effect.
The committee approved several amendments that White said would lessen the impact of any financial problems.
Under one amendment, state aid to the new district would be cut if state officials conclude that other districts statewide would lose dollars.
In addition, the new district would be required to provide $2.5 million to help East Baton Rouge officials pay retiree health insurance and other costs that stem from the creation of a new district.
East Baton Rouge Parish school officials would be authorized to bill the new district annually for post-employment cost of teachers who leave their system for the breakaway district.
The new district would also be required to help pay the debt for newly constructed school buildings in the proposed school zone, which would be called the Southeast Baton Rouge Community District.
Rutledge said the financial obligations of the new district should be based on how many students leave the East Baton Rouge School District, not school employees, to avoid a financial mess.
He said the breakaway district would also spark a $60 million hole in the district’s construction plans.
The new district would be the fourth of its kind in the Baton Rouge area. The Baker, Central and Zachary school districts were all carved out from the East Baton Rouge system.
Schools in the proposed district are Cedarcrest-Southmoor, Jefferson Terrace, Parkview, Shenandoah, Wedgewood, Westminster and Woodlawn elementary schools; Woodlawn and Southeast middle schools and Woodlawn High School.
Voting FOR Senate Bill 563 and establishing a new school district in southeast Baton Rouge (11): State Reps. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro; Johnny Berthelot, R-Gonzales; Henry Burns, R-Haughton; Patrick Connick, R-Marrero; Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles; Cameron Henry, R-New Orleans; Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville; Anthony Ligi, R-Metairie; Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley; Jim Morris, R-Oil City; and J. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs.
Voting AGAINST Senate Bill 563 and establishing a new school district in southeast Baton Rouge (8): State Reps. James Armes, D-Leesville; Roy Burrell, D-Shreveport; Bubba Chaney, R-Rayville; Ted James, D-Baton Rouge; Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans; Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans; Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge; and Ledricka Thierry, D-Opelousas.