This might be White making a promise he can’t keep, but it does address the single most pervasive issue voters care about in Baton Rouge – which is education.
The problem is that the mayor-president has no official role in running the school system in East Baton Rouge Parish.
It could be that the mayor-president can get more pre-K dollars for the school system. The mayor-president can help with getting a bond issue passed to build more schools. But he can’t see that the schools are run better.
White’s camp would respond to that by saying something along the lines of “Well, let’s find out.” And in that, they might be correct. It’s not like previous or current mayors in this town have gotten overly involved in schools; White is holding himself forward as someone who’ll make a go of that.
He’s not the only candidate doing so, by the way. Virtually all of the hopefuls in the race have made statements along the lines of pushing to get the city-parish involved in the administration of the school system.
To get any real change, though, it might be that the meddling the mayor would need to do would involve assisting in the creation of independent school districts around the parish – which is something White tried to do before the St. George movement got started. If you’ll remember, before St. George there was the Southeast Baton Rouge Independent School District movement, which was made up of a lot of the same people who ultimately worked on St. George. And White carried the bills to create that school district. He and those folks were told they’d have to have a city to get the school district, though there is no particular legal provision making that so.
But if you had a mayor-president who was for creating independent school districts within the parish, the way they’ve done for example in Houston and San Antonio, it might be a lot easier to pass a few at the legislature even if the East Baton Rouge School District were to be opposed. Barring a veto from the governor, of course, which you would likely get if the teachers’ unions opposed the ISD. Which they’d be expected to do.
The long and short of this is the voters want somebody to make an effort at fixing the lousy public schools in East Baton Rouge Parish which contribute so much to driving middle class families to Livingston and Ascension, and polling indicates education is a productive subject in a mayor’s race in which it’s been difficult to generate much attention. So it’s worthwhile to hold yourself out, if you’re White, as somebody who’ll take a few swings with an axe at trying to make improvement. And in that vein, it’s smart politics to talk about the schools. But he’ll want to keep those promises vague and less than grandiose – because any change he can make will only be on the margins without the full cooperation of a school board and superintendent he can’t control.