Letter: Bill aimed at EBR schools an overreach of state powers

Senate Bill 636 is expected to be debated soon on the floor of the House. SB636 provides for the “organization and management” of large school systems, specifically the East Baton Rouge Parish school system. One of the arguments of those opposing the legislation will be that the bill violates the state constitution, which clearly states that the legislature shall not pass a “local” law “regulating the management of parish or city public schools.” The proponents will no doubt argue that the legislation is not a “local” bill by virtue of the fact that it doesn’t single out the East Baton Rouge Parish school system since it applies to all large school systems “in a parish that is served by at least three public school systems and has a population of more than 440,000 persons.”

If it isn’t already patently obvious that SB636 is a “local” bill and intended to purposely regulate the management of EBRPSS, we need only to consider the testimony of the bill’s author, Sen. Bodi White, to the House Education Committee. In his testimony, Sen. White describes the legislation as “an attempt to give more control back to the schools and back to the communities in our K-12 program here in East Baton Rouge Parish.” When highlighting the premise of the legislation, he said it identifies the responsibilities “of the school board, the superintendent and the principals” in an effort “to try to change education forever in East Baton Rouge Parish. To try to get through this to where we don’t have to come before this legislature every year with a ‘local’ bill concerning East Baton Rouge Parish.”

Of course, one of the reasons the Louisiana Constitution prohibits “local” laws that regulate the management of parish public schools is because the citizens of the parish democratically elect officials to represent them on the “local” school board and as constituents are afforded the opportunity to hold their elected representative accountable at the polls. Political accountability, a cornerstone of our democracy and a necessity for making representatives responsive to citizens’ wishes, ensures the principles of self-determination are at the core of democratic politics. If SB636 is signed into law, the citizens of East Baton Rouge Parish will not have the ability to hold legislators from districts outside of the parish accountable. Additionally, there will undoubtedly be costly litigation that will ultimately hinge on what the meaning of the word “local” is. This bill represents a dangerous precedence and should be opposed regardless of the author’s asserted merits. The state Legislature should not be in the business of micromanaging “local” parish school systems.

Considering the points listed above, SB636 is a dramatic overreach by government into the lives of our children, citizens and community. We urge the Legislature to reject this bill.

Jean Armstrong

Leaders With Vision

Baton Rouge