A plan that would permit a new breakaway school district in southeast Baton Rouge won lopsided approval Wednesday in the Louisiana Senate.
The two-bill package passed 30-8 and 29-7 after about one hour of debate.
The plan next faces action in the Louisiana House and, if approved there, voters statewide.
Under the proposal, 10 public schools now in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system would make up the newly-formed Southeast Baton Rouge Community School System.
State Sen. Bodi White, R-Central and sponsor of the plan, said the package is a response to pleas from mothers, fathers, students and others who have concluded that long-standing problems in the East Baton Rouge system demand a fresh start.
“They want it very badly,” White said of residents in the area.
The proposed district would extend southeast from the Interstate 10/12 split, south of I-12 and east of I-10 to the parish lines.
It would apply to seven elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school.
The new district would be the fourth of its kind and follow breakaway moves by Baker, Central and Zachary.
All used to be part of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, which has a “D” rating.
White noted that Istrouma High School will soon be put under state control — which he called the eighth such school in the district — and that 31 other failing schools in north Baton Rouge are about to enter a new improvement zone, which will also be overseen by the state.
He said parish education spending totals $14,300 per student when construction dollars are included.
“It is not about the money,” White told the Senate. “It is about are we going to educate these kids.”
But state Sen. Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge, disputed White’s comments in a pointed exchange near the end of the debate.
Broome said that, while views vary on how to repair the schools, dismantling the system is not the answer.
“If we are going to work toward education reform in East Baton Rouge Parish let’s all do it together,” Broome said.
She said that leaving one segment of the school population behind “to just suffer, that is not being community minded.”
Broome sponsored an amendment that would require the new district to provide about $6 million per year to the East Baton Rouge Parish school system for “legacy” costs, such as teacher retirement and other expenses.
“With all of these breakaways we will be bankrupt if this is not addressed,” she said.
The amendment failed 16-20.
The proposal that spells out details of the plan is Senate Bill 563, which requires a simple majority.
The constitutional amendment that is also required, Senate Bill 299, needs a two-thirds vote of support, which is 26 in the Senate.
White said after the vote that he thinks the bills stand a good chance of passage in the House, even with intense opposition from leaders of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system,
“It is change, it is difficult,” he said.
East Baton Rouge Parish school system leaders note that $97 million has been committed for schools in the proposed district.
Broome said that includes $17 million for Woodlawn Elementary School, $13 million for Woodlawn Middle School and $23 million for Woodlawn High School.
The East Baton Rouge school system has about 43,000 students, and black students make up 81 percent of enrollment.
About 6,800 students attend public schools in the proposed district now, and officials say about 55 percent are minority.
What the new district would look like is in dispute.
White has said he thinks enrollment will be about 25 percent minority.
Critics contend that figure is too high and that race concerns are part of the motivation for the move.
Here are the 10 schools that are now in the East Baton Rouge Parish system that would make up the new district:
Cedarcrest-Southmoor, Jefferson Terrace, Parkview, Shenandoah, Wedgewood, Westminster and Woodlawn elementary schools; Woodlawn and Southeast middle schools and Woodlawn High School.
Voting FOR establishing a new school district in southeast Baton Rouge (30): President Alario, Adley, Allain, Appel, Buffington, Chabert, Claitor, Cortez, Crowe, Donahue, Erdey, Guillory, Johns, Kostelka, Long, Martiny, Mills, Morrell, Morrish, Nevers, Peacock, Perry, Riser, G. Smith, J. Smith, Tarver, Thompson, Walsworth, Ward and White.
Voting AGAINST SB563 (8): Sens. Broome, Brown, Dorsey-Colomb, Gallot, Heitmeier, LaFleur, Murray and Peterson.
NOT Voting (1): Sen. Amedee.