So Long and Thanks for All the Schools!

After the recent disaster that has been the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, it’s really no surprise that there’s a certain amount of dissatisfaction within the community. Add in the fact that the school system is performing near the bottom of the pack when compared with other districts in Louisiana and it’s definitely not a surprise that a portion of the East Baton Rouge Parish School System (EBRPSS) is pushing for secession.

While I can understand the dissatisfaction, I’m not so sure that a break-away school district is in the best interest of our community. I’ve previously addressed what I think of the balkanizing of East Baton Rouge Parish and I hardly think we need any more of it. So far, separating from the EBRPSS seems to be the first step in a region’s full disembarkation from the East Baton Rouge Parish community.

When listening to news reports concerning this proposal, proponents of the break-away district frequently site Zachary and Central as examples of how much better an area does if it breaks away from EBRPSS. For some reason, they routinely neglect to mention the City of Baker, an example of a school system with WORSE performance scores than EBRPSS even after breaking away. But let’s not confuse the matter, on either side the evidence is only anecdotal.

With the proposal just unveiled today, I have been unable to do much data-mining concerning the potential break-away. With that said, I have started to do a little bit of digging and figured I would circulate a few relevant data. Much of the information regarding demographic and population make-up is inexact due to my use of 2010 Census tract information* rather than more granular Census block information (Sorry, this is a hobby and not a job). Census tracts are occasionally large and may cross over the described boundaries of the district. With that said, the proponents have indicated this may not be the final shape of the district so all of these numbers could change in the future.

  • Using 2010 Census data, the proposed district is dominantly white with about 70% of the population falling into that category. Of 13 census tracts, 7 are over 75% white. While I don’t think the infamous “Deseg” case would apply to this district, it would be somewhat of a challenge to integrate the schools, particularly with only one true “Minority-Majority” tract (located generally between Airline, Coursey, and Sherwood). Even more so if a strong adherence to community school attendance zones exists. If, due to community school zones, a large number of minorities are concentrated in one school (which happens to be the worst maintained and/or most neglected), a new case may appear faster than you can say Plessy v. Ferguson.
  • Nearly a quarter (23.16%) of the district is under 18 years of age and would presumably comprise the potential student-base for this district. This almost exactly matches the overall Under-18 percentage share of the Parish population (23.55%). Additionally, the district represents 18.41% of the total Parish population and 18.10% of the Under-18 population. So, from an age distribution perspective, the district is pretty ideal.
  • The new district would contain the following schools: Woodlawn High, Woodlawn Middle, Woodlawn Elementary, Jefferson Terrace Elementary, Parkview Elementary, Shenandoah Elementary, Southeast Elementary, Wedgewood Elementary, and Westminster Elementary (which I attended, coincidentally). Overall, that’s sort of close to being in line with the Elementary-Middle-High School ratio in EBRPSS. Building an additional High School and Middle School or shuttering an Elementary School would put it more in line with that ratio. For reference, the Parish Elementary-Middle-High split is roughly 65%-15%-20% while the proposed district would have closer to an 80%-10%-10% split. Granted, the appropriateness of the split is heavily dependent on student populations and the capacity of the school (Woodlawn High is pretty big).
  • Interestingly, while the concept of secession has been batted around for a while, the actual proposal only comes shortly after the completion of several brand new to fairly new schools in the proposed new breakaway district: Woodlawn High ($24 Million), Woodlawn Middle ($10 Million), and Woodlawn Elementary ($17 Million). That’s over $50 Million in new buildings alone, not including the various renovations and additions completed at other schools in the proposed breakaway district.

Fact Break: the EBRSS Facility Improvement Plan was started around 1999 and is funded through a 1% sales tax resulting in a pay-as-you go system. This differs from a bond proposal where revenue is raised by selling bonds backed by future sales or property taxes. Phases I and II of the Facility Improvement Plan covered the new schools in the proposed breakaway district.

A big question is whether the area proposing to secede has actually paid taxes equivalent to $50+ million on top of the amount of money required for operations in their breakaway district over the last 15 or so years. If not, EBRPSS may well have an argument that the new system owes it for the investment it made in constructing these new schools that would now be taken away.

Anyway, that’s just to get started. It will be interesting to see how this conversation develops over the planned legislation and to see how the residents in the suggested breakaway district react.

* For the purposes of the proposed district, I used census tracts 38.04, 38.05, 39.06, 39.07, 39.08, 39.09, 39.10, 40.09, 45.05, 45.07, 45.08, 45.09, & 45.10

-Politivore

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