Hey St. George People, Your Wake-Up Calls Are All Around You

One question keeps popping up in our heads as we watch the continuing decline of Baton Rouge under the mismanagement of its current mayor-president and the paralysis of the region’s overall political leadership, not to mention the never-ending racial agitation from the Gary Chamberses of the world: where are the St. George people?

This might be one of those “don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” things, in that the leaders of that movement – assuming there still are leaders of that movement – recognize that the worse things get as they sit dormant, the more the momentum builds for a new city to incorporate in the southern part of the parish, and when they finally do pull the trigger on a renewed St. George effort there will more or less be a consensus in favor of it.

It might be, or maybe the St. George movement just gave up. We can’t say.

What we can say is they’re missing one hell of an opportunity. For example, here was an Advocate article about the goings-on at the East Baton Rouge School Board…

The latest plans for school construction over the next decade aren’t sitting well with East Baton Rouge Parish School Board members who represent south Baton Rouge.

Those members pressed school leaders to accelerate the building of new schools in that fast growing but school-scarce part of the parish when the plans were presented at a retreat on Saturday.

“The areas with the most children are being placed last in the plan,” said Connie Bernard, whose District 8 includes much of south Baton Rouge but has only three public schools.

As the board met Saturday at Southern University for its full day retreat, Superintendent Warren Drake and his staff presented 22 “Recommended Named Projects” that the school system is looking to build between 2019 and 2029. The promised new schools in south Baton Rouge would open no earlier than 2027, nearly a decade from now.

The construction will occur only if voters renew a 1-cent-sales tax earmarked for education – a public referendum that is scheduled for April 28. About half of the revenue from the sales tax goes to school construction. That portion of the tax is expected to generate $417 million for that purpose over the next decade. The board plans to vote on Thursday on which construction projects it will ask voters to support.

Baton Rouge has, in Warren Drake, the best school superintendent it’s probably ever going to have, and Drake isn’t stupid. He knows that he’s either got to provide the southern part of the parish with some decent public schools, and quickly, or one of two things is inevitable. First is that South Baton Rouge is going to start seeing the same bleeding-out of middle class parents to Ascension and Livingston Parishes that the rest of Baton Rouge has seen, which will accelerate the decline of his school system. Second is what’s left of those parents will produce St. George or something like it, and for Drake that means they’ll be taking South Baton Rouge and its tax base out of his war chest. But he also recognizes that pushing too hard to satisfy the needs of the South Baton Rouge people is a good way to get fired.

The dirty little secret here is that the East Baton Rouge school system – not Drake, per se, but the bureaucracy he oversees and the various stakeholders who’ve been nuzzling up to the teat the system represents – don’t really care whether they get to collect taxes from South Baton Rouge at the end of the day. This state’s system is rigged so it doesn’t matter all that much. The funding formula for the state’s Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) is established so that if a school system has a higher percentage of poor kids who qualify for reduced-price or free school lunches, that system will draw more money down from the MFP. That’s why when Zachary and Central set up their own school systems, the East Baton Rouge Parish system started getting a lot more money per student. They lose population but make up for it with higher per-student subsidies which don’t depend on performance.

And on top of that, the population they lose is the population they want to lose.

That’s not a racial thing. It’s a middle-class thing, and it applies whether we’re talking about whites, blacks, Asians, Puerto Ricans or Choctaws. Middle class moms and dads will wear out a school making consumer demands. They care about their kids. The kids are generally better behaved and will actually do things like homework, but what that means is they expect the school to hold up its end of the bargain and they react poorly to bureaucracy. Poor parents, on the whole, are a whole lot easier to handle. Their kids are usually a lot more problematic but the parents have no idea what a good education is and lack the time or the motivation to make demands that the school do things to provide objectively good services to them. You can placate them with stupid social justice warrior stuff and it’ll make them feel good. And when their kids do poorly in school, you can just blame it on the parents who aren’t involved in their kids’ education.

Drake isn’t that guy. But he presides over a school system which is made by and for people who lack education and live in the cycle of crime and poverty which is dragging Baton Rouge down into the territory of Detroit, Baltimore or Jackson. While that might sound depressing, it’s better than it seems if you’re a bureaucrat in a school system like that – because the rich do-gooders in town whose kids don’t go to public school are constantly trying to throw more money at you to improve the schools without ever lifting an eye toward whether you’re doing anything productive with that money, and in Louisiana you get more money falling out of the sky from the MFP just for running such a school system. So if you’re middle management in the school system or if you’re a politically-connected contractor in it, you can knock down your 80K or 100K a year while playing Mahjong on the computer most of the day and so long as you don’t care that you’re in an organization which is destroying the lives and opportunities of the kids in your community who desperately need economic and social advancement, it’s not a bad life.

Decline can be quite underrated, it turns out.

Especially when you move your family to Zachary or Central, or Ascension or Livingston Parishes. Because the schools are better there.

Everybody knows this stuff. Everybody has known it for a long time. Again – it’s not a racial thing. The black middle class in the Baton Rouge area knows it better than anybody else in town and they’re decamping for the suburbs faster than anyone else is.

Given all of this, it’s not a surprise that the earnest people in the EBR school system like Bernard are trying to get some schools built in South Baton Rouge this very week in an attempt to head off St. George or to stop the flight out of the parish, and yet there is no real consensus to make that happen. Maybe on Thursday they’ll vote to put that on the ballot, maybe they won’t – even if they do, you’re talking about asking the voters for a tax to support that school construction, and nobody north of Florida Boulevard is really going to want to pay sales taxes to build public schools for rich, mostly white, folks in South Baton Rouge.

That isn’t to say the tax won’t pass, but it is to say there is no particular populist imperative to do what’s obvious; namely to try to grow the public schools in Baton Rouge in an area where the economic activity is. After all, this is a city-parish which voted Sharon Weston Broome in as mayor-president on a specifically stated campaign promise to steal tax dollars from the southern part of the parish and then drop them out of helicopters on North Baton Rouge, and Broome has done everything she can to fulfill that promise so far.

So given this reality, if you live in the unincorporated southern part of the parish, how can you possibly justify not supporting St. George? Maybe you were opposed to it three years ago. Things have changed quite a bit, no? Doesn’t the “Better Together” slogan adopted by the anti-St. George gang then sound like a joke now? Do you really think the people at City Hall and in the other seats of power in East Baton Rouge Parish have your interests sufficiently in mind not to incorporate your own city? How much further evidence do you need?

The guess here is from the Country Club of Louisiana to Shenandoah, from Jones Creek to Santa Maria, there’s a pretty wide consensus in favor of St. George. So far, though, what there doesn’t appear to be is a leadership team willing to poke their heads out from the underground and crank the incorporation effort back up.

Who knows? Maybe that’ll change. If ever there was a time to make St. George happen it’s now.

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