Our Views: A consensus still unfound

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber has caused controversy with a school reform proposal aimed at drastically reorganizing the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.

The status quo doesn’t like it, but there are sound ideas in the measures before the Legislature.

Our concern is there is a big gap between sound ideas and practical administration, especially in a slew of state mandates that the East Baton Rouge Parish system — or, indeed, any other — will have a hard time making work on the ground. Certainly, not quickly.

The politics of the proposals are particularly poisonous, given the agitation by some suburban residents in the St. George area for a separate school district. Yet, if that heats the discussion, the reality is St. George’s petition drive isn’t a sure thing, especially because we don’t see the math working out for a proposed city and school district in the area.

“Nothing in this is going to stop St. George,” warns a former East Baton Rouge Parish School Board member now in the Legislature, Rep. Pat Smith.

Leaving those politics aside, we think there are good ideas pushed by the chamber, including many that, in principle, have been pushed in Jefferson Parish recently under the leadership of Superintendent James Meza.

The idea of school-based management and accountability are constructive, but we wonder how quickly — even if phased in over a period of several years — the burdens on school principals to become site managers will be handled.

Again, not at all bad in principle but certain to be difficult to achieve without the support of the system involved. We don’t see the buy-in, to use an overworked management buzzword.

Where the chamber seeks to create a bad precedent is in mandating a shrinking of the School Board and the resultant redrawing of districts.

There is no magic in going from an 11-member board to a seven-member board. But there is a danger in getting legislators used to the idea of resolving local controversies by scrapping election districts; it’s reapportionment as a political weapon.

School boards elsewhere, and local governments generally, are right to be concerned.

Given the us-versus-them nature of the current disputes, a board that has seen one member literally work himself to death opposing the chamber bills, and the far-reaching nature of the school-level changes proposed, we wonder if these proposals are going to work, even if passed by the Legislature.