Our Views: Making a deal on schools

The fierce legislative battle over whether to establish a new public school district in southeast Baton Rouge was a potent reminder that many parents on both sides of the debate seem very interested in providing quality schools for their children. We hope that shared interest provides the basis for constructive compromise.

For the second year in a row, a bill creating the new district failed to get through the Legislature recently. The legislation’s chief backer, state Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, dropped plans to push the proposal after concluding that he didn’t have enough votes to secure passage.

The district, if approved, would have carved out a large area of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, taking numerous schools and significant resources with it. Critics of the proposed district said that it would further weaken the East Baton Rouge Parish school system. Advocates of the proposed breakaway district promoted it as a much-needed answer to low academic performance within the EBR school system.

We opposed the proposed new southeast district, concluding that it could deprive the existing district the resources it needs to provide specialized services, such as magnet schools and gifted and talented instruction. We also believed that a new district would further polarize a community already touched by too much political division. The idea to incorporate a new city in southeast Baton Rouge as an alternative path to a new school district also seems divisive.

We’ve been vocal critics of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board when it’s failed to advance needed reforms. But we also know that the EBR system, in spite of its faults, is also home to a number of stellar schools that are nationally recognized for academic excellence. The system should be mended, not ended.

We’re glad that opponents of the breakaway district expressed a desire to meet with those who backed the new district. We hope that talks resume between White and EBR Schools Superintendent Bernard Taylor. The two have talked previously about a possible compromise plan that would address the concerns of parents in southeast Baton Rouge, but those conversations didn’t seem to go anywhere.

Now that backers of the breakaway district have twice failed to get legislative approval of their idea, new talks with Taylor seem like the best bet. Taylor ­­—­ and the board for which he works — ­­­should ­also have a new sense of urgency concerning school performance. Continued interest in the breakaway district is a vote of no-confidence in the status quo.

Clearly, both sides have an incentive to make a deal. We hope they can come to the table as partners, not adversaries.