The Southeast Baton Rouge ISD Fight Actually Got More Interesting Today

Today at a press conference, Sen. Bodi White, who was the sponsor of SB 73, the constitutional amendment which would have put to a vote the establishment of the Southeast Baton Rouge Community School District, announced he couldn’t get to 70 votes in the House to pass the amendment.

But at that press conference, White didn’t exactly admit defeat. And the status quo types who spent the entire legislative session accusing the people attempting to create the breakaway school district of racism and worse might well regret having defeated the amendment.

A Facebook update this afternoon from Local Schools For Local Children, the community group backing the move to create the independent school district, indicates that they feel like, if anything, they might have a whip hand against the status quo going forward…

Senator White and representatives from Local Schools for Local Children held a press conference today to discuss the future of the Southeast Baton Rouge Community School District for this legislative session and moving forward. The bad news: We will not be bringing the Constitutional Amendment (SB73) up for vote this session. The votes just weren’t there.

Now for the good news and why this is still a win. Last year both bills were directly tied together. That means when the constitutional amendment died, both bills died. This year the bills WERE NOT tied together. This means the creation of the Southeast Baton Rouge Community School District will be signed by the Governor creating multiple opportunities moving forward. Even if we would have passed the constitutional amendment, the next statewide election isn’t until 2014.

We do not have to run the “local bill” to create the school district again. This is a big deal. That’s what takes the most time, has to go through four committees and causes the constitutional amendment to wind up being heard on the last days of session. Bringing back just the constitutional amendment next session gives us the opportunity to focus solely on that. Any legislator who votes against it will be voting against the people being allowed to vote. We will rely on the supporters of this district to help us get that message to the opponents of this movement.

Senator White also brought up the possibility of incorporating the area of Southeast Baton Rouge and forming a city and thus creating a new city system. We have stayed away from this in hopes the legislature would do the right thing. Now that they have not for two years in a row, it’s on the table. This will obviously be up to the people of this district.

Senator White and Local Schools for Local Children will be holding a public meeting within the next week to 10 days to discuss the options (which there are many) with the residents of this district. We invite all residents and supporters to attend. We will let you know the time and location shortly.

Despite the best efforts of our opposition (who we will detail in an upcoming post) the creation of this new district cannot be taken away. We didn’t get all the way there but this is absolutely a win. If the people of this district are willing to contribute to our efforts and join us in this fight, we firmly believe that we will either have a constitutional amendment on the next statewide ballot in 2014 or there will be a new city.

Two key points here. First, the enabling legislation for the school district – not the constitutional amendment but the companion bill which had most of the particulars – passed in both houses of the legislature and is expected to be signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal next week. That “creates” the school district, though it can’t actually become a reality without a constitutional amendment. And not tying the bills together means the district got halfway home in this session.

And second, if the folks in the southeast part of East Baton Rouge Parish were to move toward forming their own city, all hell might well break loose around here.

The thing you have to remember, or understand, if you’re not a Baton Rougean, is that a big chunk of the population of the parish is in unincorporated areas. And this includes a big area in the southern part of the parish which happens to be quite wealthy. The area down Highland Road, for example, including the mansions in and around the Country Club of Louisiana. If the southeastern part of the parish decides they want to incorporate as a city, they might well end up taking in the rest of the southern part of the parish as well. Or if not, maybe the folks in the southwestern part of the parish would consider incorporating a city of their own.

Which would mean something like 40 percent of the tax base of East Baton Rouge Parish would be incorporating its own city. And that would make the job of mayor-president a very lousy gig to have, with a lot less revenue coming in and a lot needier set of voters.

Given that as an alternative, don’t be too surprised if the status quo crowd turns down the temperature and tries to cut a deal with the ISD people before the parish turns into the Balkans of Baton Rouge.

If they’re smart they’ll do that. So far they’re anything but smart. And if the battle continues into incorporation, we’re going to hear more of the race card – which is the worst possible idea for the status quo gang to try to employ should a white-hot political battle ensue. Doing a lousy job of governing, and in so doing alienating and trashing the confidence of a big part of your citizenry who don’t particularly feel you care about them and have the resources to govern themselves, and then calling them a bunch of racists when they decide that rather than just sell their houses and move to Livingston or Ascension Parishes they’d prefer to stand on their own as a city…all that will do is galvanize the vote of those considering incorporation in favor of the proposition.

Which will mean something like a brand new high school goes up not far from the Country Club of Louisiana as part of the newest, richest and best school district in the state. And the kids in East Baton Rouge Parish schools get the hell beaten out of them in even more dilapidated buildings with an even more junked-up and failed school system pretending to care what happens to them.

But whatever comes out of this situation, you can bet the status quo won’t be part of it for very long. Whatever trust the school system had with the people in the southeastern part of the parish is now gone, and there never really was much trust or investment in the southwestern part of the parish (when you consider that right now there isn’t a single public high school in the southwestern part of the parish at present that’s a pretty good indication how much the system cares about those people and how much reason they have to care about maintaining the status quo). The potential for turmoil is such that if all that happens is one more breakaway school district in the southeastern part of the parish, the status quo crowd might count themselves lucky.

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