Instead of being sore losers, Baton Rouge’s business community is shrugging off the scars of a bruising legislative battle over the direction of public schools. Leaders of the effort say they will continue to work for reforms.
Now it’s time for the current leadership of the East Baton Rouge system to avoid being sore winners.
By that, we mean that the high-fives and cheering of system allies when Sen. Bodi White’s bill was defeated in the state House do not reflect a healthy situation for the local schools.
First, because the system desperately needs the support of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and other groups backing the bill by White, R-Baton Rouge.
Second, because White’s bill promotes some good ideas for the future of the system.
Like many of the opponents of the bill, we questioned how effective some of the proposals would be if imposed by legislative mandate without the spadework and, to use an overused word, buy-in of the system itself.
One key feature of the measure, although not the only proposal in it, would give school principals in the district sweeping new budget and other authority. It would place principals under two-year management contracts and hold them responsible for meeting goals on key exams, graduation and college acceptance rates.
A significant number of principals signed statements opposing the White bill. That suggests that if the ideas had merit — and we can see where they might — the good intentions of the bill had not congealed into a plan that many principals might embrace.
Further, the lopsided 60-31 vote against the bill in the House probably had less to do with a vote of confidence in East Baton Rouge than with lobbying by systems across the state: They didn’t want legislators getting ideas about similar bills elsewhere.
“Parents throughout the parish will continue to clamor for high-performing community public schools,” said BRAC President Adam Knapp after the vote, and he’s right.
So what now?
We wonder if the East Baton Rouge system cannot use the flush of victory to forge the kind of convincing reform plan that has been embraced in Jefferson Parish and other places — where, in fact, some of the BRAC-pushed initiatives have been used to good effect.
Despite some real improvements in East Baton Rouge in the past few years, Jefferson and other places have advanced faster in school performance scores and built alliances, instead of fighting with business leaders.
This is more important than ever, as the state seeks to promote more effective job-readiness skills in high schools.
Where else is effective job training going to come from? Real partnerships with businesses and schools.
That alone ought to argue for the need for gracious winners in this fight.