Bid for new school district dead

A bid to set up a new school district in southeast Baton Rouge died Wednesday when the chief sponsor said he was dropping plans to push the key proposal in the state House.

“I’m not going to run the bill this year,” said state Sen. Bodi White, R-Central.

White said he was unsure whether he would push the plan next year but plans to meet with business leaders in the affected area. He said one option would be to incorporate the collection of neighborhoods that makes up the proposed school system, which would boost chances for passage.

White originally said he planned to get a House vote on Monday, mostly because the chamber would likely be filled, and boost chances for passage.

But no tally took place.

White said at the time that he did not have enough support to get the needed two-thirds majority — 70 votes — for the proposed constitutional amendment, and little changed since then. “I don’t think I can quite get there,” White said Wednesday of the 70-vote threshold.

A similar plan died at the same point in the legislative process last year.

The proposed ballot measure is Senate Bill 73.

The change in state law is Senate Bill 199, which won final legislative approval in the House on May 30.

That vote was 57-36, which was enough for that measure but well below the minimum number needed to pass the constitutional amendment.

In another late-session hurdle, backers would have to round up two-thirds votes in both the Senate and House to even take up the bill, then at least 70 votes in the House again to pass it.

The regular session has to end by 6 p.m. Thursday, and negotiations over the state’s proposed $25 billion operating budget are dominating attention in the final hours.

Both bills have to pass, and voters must approve the plan, for the new school system to take effect.

Belinda Davis, president of One Community One School District, an opponent of the new district, said after White’s comments that her group plans to reach out to backers of the overhaul.

“We are going to be contacting the parents in Local Schools for Local Children,” Davis said, a reference to the key group behind the push.

She said the gatherings would be parent-to-parent, and without officials of the East Baton Rouge Parish School District, “to talk about the concerns and how we can help address them.”

State Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, a leading opponent of the new district, said after White’s announcement that the package faced too many questions to pass.

James said concerns that the new district could eventually mean less state aid for other districts statewide sparked concerns among some lawmakers who were not originally expected to oppose the plan.

He said others worried that another breakaway school district in the Baton Rouge area — it would be the fourth of its kind — would eventually become an issue in their home areas.

“I don’t think folks want to see that in their district,” James said.

Asked what reluctant lawmakers told him, White said, “It was a cascade of reasons.”

The boundaries of the new school system would extend from the Interstate 10/12 split, south of I-12 and east of I-10 to the parish lines.

Backers say the new district is needed because of academic and other problems in the East Baton Rouge Parish School District.

Opponents predict the change would cause financial and other problems in the schools left behind.

Opponents said that, if the district became reality, it would be the first time in Louisiana that a collection of neighborhoods was turned into a school system.