Last night, the circus came to town.
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The bird’s-eye view is that the East Baton Rouge Parish public schools are an unmitigated disaster. A decades-long federal desegregation case polarized the schools along racial lines and led to such a pronounced white flight that in a parish which is essentially 50-50 in population between white and black residents (the 2010 census says the parish is 48.8 percent white and 45.3 percent black), the public schools are 89 percent black.
And in the two Southwest Baton Rouge zip codes with the highest home values, those being 70808 and 70810, there are no public high schools.
Which means the folks shouldering the highest share of the tax burden in Baton Rouge have zero investment in the public schools, because the public schools have made no investment in them. As a result, you have last night’s spectacle surrounding a school system which is so chaotic and such a failure that it can’t find or keep a superintendent willing to make $215,000 a year.
This, by the way, in a district which spends $12,193 per student per year. And the new state School Performance Scores ratings gave East Baton Rouge a D – just 54th among the state’s 70 subdivisions.
Last night’s donnybrook is largely a function of outrage by supporters of Herman Brister, the No. 2 man in the district office, in his effort to be named interim superintendent. Apparently Brister is guilty of practicing a bit more nepotism than a majority of the school board can tolerate, so his candidacy is problematic even as an interim head. And John Dilworth, the outgoing superintendent who has been trying to quit basically since he took the job, is leaving three months earlier than his contract states while trying to collect as much medical leave pay as he can on his way out the door.
Meanwhile Samuel King, a school administrator from Georgia who had been the lone finalist for the job, pulled out yesterday when it became clear there were six votes against his candidacy for the job.
Which means the school board will meet again next week with no real indication any of this will be resolved. And we’ll get another spectacle with overfed parents and other “stakeholders” berating school board members for putting “politics over our children.”
It’s a train wreck, it’s a train wreck largely based on racial lines and it’s a train wreck which perfectly indicates why Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education reform package which would inject charter schools and vouchers into this mix is sorely needed.
Of the 76 East Baton Rouge schools graded in the state’s School Performance Scores, just 11 were rated A or B. Under Jindal’s plan students at the other 65 would be eligible for vouchers.
Just two private schools in town – Episcopal and Dunham – cost more in tuition than what’s being spent per student in the public schools.
And in none of the city’s private and parochial schools is there a circus when the board of trustees meets to pick its leadership.