Category Archives: Schools

Y U H8 Democracy?

So Facebook basically blew up today after the East Baton Rouge Parish School System (EBRPSS) announced they were canceling school on Wednesday because about 1/3 of the teachers in the Parish opted to take a personal day to protest Governor Bobby Jindal’s education reform package. This had the additional effect of annoying parents of students attending Catholic schools since EBRPSS inexplicably provides transportation for some of those students as well. Obviously, this creates some challenges. Parents of public school kids have to find something for their kids to do (BREC has provided free options) and parents of Catholic school students are going to have to arrange transportation. Good thing for the teachers that the legislature is voting on it and not the public, woe unto anyone who inconveniences a voter. With that said, I can see it being used as an issue in future EBRPSS related tax elections.

But my point in posting today is to address the folks mad at the teachers for taking off and protesting at the Capitol. Honestly, I cannot comprehend how anyone can be angry with a group of citizens peacefully assembling to petition their government for a readdress of a grievance. Sound familiar? It should, it’s basically the last two phrases in the First Amendment of the US Constitution. Seriously, these teachers are simply availing themselves of their rights as citizens of the United States (well, availing themselves of the right to be protected from Congress and, by extension, the States creating laws preventing the free exercise thereof, but that’s getting technical). So anyone angry at teachers for simply protesting may want to take a civics class.

OK, so we shouldn’t be mad at teachers for exercising their rights. Fine. So we should be mad at them for sacrificing student’s learning in order to protect their job conditions, right? Well, not really. While we tend to hold teachers to a higher collective standard because we entrust them with our children, there’s really no reason why they should be penalized for the decision to protect their rights. Teachers apparently believe that there is something worth fighting against in Gov. Jindal’s school reform bill. As government workers, they can only fight that bill on personal time, thus they have requested time off to do so.

I know what you’re saying: “Come on, man! I have to be able to be mad at something! I am so inconvenienced by this! I’m infuriated!” Alright, I’ll throw you a bone. If you want to be mad at something, take a close look at the EBRPSS Personal Leave policy. The policy basically authorizes teachers two days per school year that they can take off for whatever reason. In addition, the teacher is only required to provide 24 hours notice. When combined with the Employee Leave and Absence Policy as well as this PowerPoint presentation concerning EBRPSS policies (see Slides 25 & 26), it appears that the leave cannot be denied (At least that’s my reading of the documents, I welcome any clarifying information). Assuming that’s the case, this can obviously cause significant staffing problems under certain conditions (like the one we have now).

I have a problem with that policy. I served for 6 years in the US Army and had a generous leave policy to the tune of 30 days a year (granted, one of the working conditions was “willing to be shot at when necessary”, so the leave was well earned). With a generous policy like that, certain restrictions had to be put in place. One of the primary ways of ensuring proper staffing was requiring prior approval and advance notice. Here are my two suggestions for changing the Personal Leave policy to prevent something like this from happening in the future. First, as long as personal leave is requested at least 7 days out, it does not require approval. This protects the teacher’s  ability to take off for planned, important events regardless of the whims of middle and upper management. Second, personal leave requested less than 7 days out must be approved by the Central Office. This will ensure someone notices the potential for a critical staffing shortage. Taken together, teachers can still stage mass protests given sufficient notice and planning. This wouldn’t be so much of a debacle if parents had more than a one day notice that school was canceled. Ultimately, these two changes would allow the Central Office to prevent sudden, unanticipated shortages of staff allowing it to continue its mission of educating students while still providing teachers with the ability to exercise their rights.



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Filed under Protest, Schools

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


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Filed under Parochialism, Schools