Parent group prepares new fight against SBR school district

Leaders of a Baton Rouge parent group formed a year ago to oppose the creation of a new Southeast Baton Rouge school district told an audience of about 45 people Tuesday night that they are gearing up to do it all over again.

Belinda Davis, president of One Community, One School District, said the situation reminded her of the movie “Groundhog Day,” where a character played by Bill Murray relived the same day repeatedly.

The proponents of a new Southeast Baton Rouge school district, which would be the fifth in East Baton Rouge Parish, announced at a public meeting in January that they plan try to get the proposal through the Legislature when it convenes April 8. A year ago, they fell a few votes short of getting the issue sent to voters statewide via a proposed constitutional amendment.

Davis told the audience gathered at the Unitarian Church on Tuesday that creating a new district would saddle the remaining school system with millions of dollars in “legacy costs,” largely medical expenses of future retirees. She said some of them worked in public schools in southeast Baton Rouge and have educated children who would attend school in the newly independent district.

“When legacy costs go up in East Baton Rouge Parish, that means less money to go into your child’s classroom,” Davis said.

Davis said southeast proponents offered at first to pay nothing for legacy costs, but when the bill was in trouble they offered to put a “paltry” $2.5 million and have the state Department of Education figure out how much should be paid out later. Davis said that should be determined up front.

“My contention is that is not enough,” she said. “Our children deserve certainty in what they will have to bear.”

Davis also was critical of the community group, Local Schools for Local Children, that is promoting the new school district. She said the group has not updated its Web page to highlight much improved school report cards at the schools they’re seeking to run, nor has the group posted online its plan to add new magnet and other programs in the southeast area if the new school district is created.

“We need information before we as parents can vote, and our legislators need more information,” she said.

Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, who opposed the breakaway proposal, urged audience members to call legislators throughout the state and to sign a forthcoming petition. He said One Community, One School District’s petition last year showed lawmakers that the proposed new school district had substantial opposition in Baton Rouge.

“When they saw they had over 900 names on this petition, it changed some minds,” James said.

Much of the opposition to the new school district has come from parents in magnet and gifted-and-talented programs who are worried the new district will jeopardize those programs.

Danielle Smith said she’s concerned that the school she wants her child in won’t be available to her if the new district comes into being.

“Our goal has been Baton Rouge High, and they’re taking that away from me,” Smith said.

One Community, One School District supporters said Baton Rouge has several standout schools and could have more if the district remains intact.

Kerii Landry-Thomas said her two children are in private schools now but she is trying to get them into public schools. She said she lives inside the proposed southeast Baton Rouge district boundaries and worries what it would mean for her children. She said she’s not alone in her desire to shift to public schools.

“The private schools we’ve attended, there’s so many parents who want to make a jump,” Landry-Thomas said.