Sen. Bodi White files new bill to create southeast school system

Friday, March 29, 2013 - 6:00am

The East Baton Rouge School System is in for another fight this spring.

State Senator Bodi White (R-Baton Rouge) filed a bill Tuesday to create a Southeast Baton Rouge community school system.

The district would include ten schools in the area bounded by Interstate 12, Interstate 10, and the parish line.

Sen. White filed a similar bill in 2012, which failed by just a couple votes in the House of Representatives.

"Well, I won't say it's a better (chance of success this year), but I have as good a chance," he said Thursday. "And we came within a whisper of passing it last year."

Sen. White said the reason he is pushing the new district once again is not just because he thinks it makes sense, but because that is what his constituents want.

"They asked that I bring it," he claimed. "I wanted to make sure I had their support, so I ran a poll; it was almost 77 percent favorability in that area."

The East Baton Rouge Parish School System has early 43,000 students. Sen. White says that is too many to properly manage, which creates room for administrative waste.

One instance of wasteful spending Sen. White cited was the recent decision by EBRPSS to hire a public relations firm and a lobbyist to represent it at the capitol, which he claimed could cost a couple hundred thousand dollars.

If the southeast corridor get control over its schools, Sen. White believes its leaders will pay closer attention to what its students need.

"And once you vote on it, it's yours," he said, "and your tax dollars in your area go for the local operation for that school. People have to have buy-in."

The schools involved are: Cedarcrest , Jefferson Terrace, Parkview Oaks, Shenandoah, Wedgewood, Westminster, and Woodlawn elementary schools; Southeast and Woodlawn middle schools; and Woodlawn High School.

Sen. White said half the children in the area go to private schools, partly because parents do not trust the school system, and tuition is putting them in debt they cannot afford.

He said that EBRPSS has, "never recognized that they're providing a service to the people of East Baton Rouge Parish. And you need to sit down with the people that are receiving the service, and try to make them happy.

"And obviously, the people of this parish are not happy or they wouldn't be leaving by then tens of thousands over the last decade, and you wouldn't have all these efforts to get out of their school system."

The ten schools in the area proposed average a C in their performance scores. Many parents look north to the A schools in Zachary and Central and say they can achieve the same results.

"Those folks down there care about their kids just as much as the ones do in Central and Zachary," Sen. White said. "And certainly, those kids down there are just as smart as the ones in Central and Zachary."

One of the main criticisms of the plan is that residents of Zachary and Central pay higher property taxes than the rest of the parish, and that is why their schools have improved. But Sen. White said it was the schools themselves that required the tax increases, not the education.

"It's not permanent, and they did that because they had to build 'em," he stated. "I don't see that same problem in southeast Baton Rouge. They have pretty good (buildings) down there."

The Southeast district would have roughly 7,500 students. Smaller districts traditionally have a harder time supporting specialized programs or magnet schools, which is why some parents want to keep EBRPSS intact.

White said he prefers to stay out of that debate.

"Put it in place and call for the district," he said of his role. "I'm not going to write the curriculum for them, I'm not going to write their taxing rate. But I'm going to help them create that district, I'm gonna do something to make their schools better down there."

Sen. White shot down another criticism of the proposal, that the new district would be less diverse than EBRPSS.

"I think that there's always the smoke," he said of that claim. "They kept saying that Central and Zachary would be 90, 80, 85-95 percent white. That's not true; Zachary is almost 50-50.

"The numbers we have for the children that actually live in that district, it's almost 50-50, so there's going to be plenty of diversity. I mean, it depends what you call diversity, but 50-50 seems pretty diverse to me." 

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