Just a few years after becoming an elementary school, Scotlandville Elementary is set to receive an $8.5 million makeover that will convert it back into a middle school.
The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Thursday voted 8-2 to make the shift, with board members Jerry Arbour and Connie Bernard voting no; and Board President Barbara Freiberg abstaining.
Prior to Thursday’s vote, the plan, approved by voters in 2008, was to spend that $8.5 million to add seventh and eighth grades to Scotlandville Elementary, but retain the lower grades.
The conversion, which won’t be complete until fall 2013, will provide capacity to educate up to 950 middle school-age children and is meant to free up space in other overcrowded middle schools in the parish.
Four Baton Rouge middle schools were taken over in 2008 and 2009 and converted into charter schools and overseen by the state-run Recovery School District, or RSD.
During the 2011-12 school year, 216 students who live in the old attendance zone of Crestworth Middle, now a charter school in Scotlandville, are in parish schools, particularly at Park Forest Middle School. More than 1,000 other students in RSD attendance zones attend other parish schools.
Arbour pushed unsuccessfully to delay the vote until January to give Superintendent John Dilworth one more try to get a middle school back from the RSD. His motion, however, failed 3-6, with two board members abstaining.
“I truly believe at some point we’re going to get a middle school,” said Arbour, echoing a couple of other board members. “And when we get one middle school back, we’ll have wasted money.”
Dilworth, however, cast doubt on that idea. He said in his time as superintendent, he’s tried three times to persuade the state to give back a school.
“Recent events have made me more convinced that this will probably not happen,” Dilworth said.
Particularly telling for Dilworth was the state’s refusal to give the school system back Capitol High School even though 100 Black Men of Baton Rouge, which had the charter, was willing to give it back to the school system. Instead, RSD is running the high school directly now.
Arbour has also expressed concern that converting Scotlandville Middle to an elementary school, as well as starting projects springing from that conversion, will prompt shortfalls in other future projects.
Catherine Fletcher, chief business operations officer, said in a separate interview that the only additional expense provoked by the changes approved Thursday is a $1.8 million addition to Ryan Elementary. She said a surplus in a separate school construction program, financed by no-interest federal bonds, could be used to pay for most or all of that addition.
Scotlandville Elementary, at 9147 Elm Grove Garden Drive, was a middle school for years, but was converted to an elementary school in 2007 and now educates about 500 children.
The School Board’s action sets in motion a chain of events.
Scotlandville Elementary students, like the children in Vernecia Anthony’s first-grade class, will likely spend second grade nearby at the former Banks Elementary, which closed in May. A smaller number may find their way to Sharon Hills Elementary, where the school system is making renovations and adding four new classrooms. In 2013, more children will change schools when an $18 million rebuilding and expansion of Progress Elementary is completed, as well as a $1.8 million six-classroom addition is made to Ryan Elementary is finished.
On Friday, 17 first-graders were unaware of such changes in the offing, as they sat cross-legged on the floor of Anthony’s classroom. Anthony was having them sound out and later copy some sentences she’d written out for them. She held up card for key letters M and S, eliciting rounds of “mmmms” and “ssssss” from the children.
“Very good,” Anthony finished. “Everyone give me some spirit fingers,” prompting the children to raise their hands and wriggle their fingers back and forth.
At Thursday’s board meeting, Arbour expressed concern about the disruption all these school shifts will cause. He was especially concerned about Ryan, a school that last year won a National Blue Ribbon of Excellence honor for its prolonged and sizeable academic growth over the past decade.
“If something is not broke, let’s not try to fix it,” Arbour said. “This is a wonderful school.”
Dilworth defended the move, saying it will benefit other children to put them in a higher performing school.
“I would be glad to put some more kids in Ryan, where a good staff has been established, and the expectations there remain high,” he said.
Board member Craig Freeman said that middle school children need more space as soon as possible.
“I think we break our duty to children when we put them in schools that are above capacity,” he said.