In hopes of saving money that could help pay for a new school that would be in what is now the proposed city of St. George, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Thursday put off plans to spend $6.2 million renovating two elementary schools in 2016.
The School Board voted 8-2 to delay approval of converting temporary buildings to new classrooms at Riveroaks and Wedgewood elementary schools until December. Board members Vereta Lee and Kenyetta Nelson-Smith voted against the proposal. Board member Craig Freeman was absent.
Adding classrooms and making renovations to Riveroaks and Wedgewood elementary schools are projects listed by name in a document known as the “blue book.” That book was made law in spring 2008 when voters renewed for 10 years a 1-cent sales tax, which funds school construction in the parish.
“This master plan was built some time back, and the needs of the community have changed,” said board member Connie Bernard, who is running for re-election Dec. 6 in District 8, which is situated south of Interstate 10.
Part of District 8 is in the city of Baton Rouge, but most of it is an unincorporated area. Residents in that area turned in petitions with roughly 17,500 signatures to incorporate into the city of St. George. If successful, St. George supporters plan to ask the Legislature to start the process to create a new school district carved out of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.
The part of the proposed St. George school district located south of I-10 is home to a small alternative school and one charter school but no neighborhood schools. St. George backers proposed a year ago building six schools in the area, though recently, they lowered that to four schools.
To provide the area with schools, a few School Board members want to move up a $32 million proposal, also in the “blue book,” to build a new school on vacant property located near Jefferson Terrace Elementary.
Moving up that project past others scheduled sooner requires not just the School Board’s approval but also the approval of a citizen’s oversight committee created as part of the tax plan.
Board member Barbara Freiberg said she’d like to find enough money to build not just one school but perhaps a second school, “somewhere in the area where it’s most needed.”
Until that happens, though, the board is closely scrutinizing every project that comes along. Freiberg said she visited both Riveroaks and Wedgewood and said she doesn’t think all the planned work is necessary.
Board member Mary Lynch, who represents much of the area that Wedgewood and Riveroaks serve, cautioned against quickly abandoning the plans for those two schools.
“I’m going to ask you to think hard about this and not play politics with the health, safety and welfare of our students,” Lynch said.
Earl Kern, program manager for CSRS/Tillage Construction, which oversees most school construction for the school system, said designing the additions to the two schools was supposed to start in July and more delays will make it hard to get all the planned work done by August 2016 as planned.
Jill Dyason, who represents much of southeast Baton Rouge, suggested the board hold a special workshop soon, perhaps in January, with the citizen’s oversight committee to rethink much of the 1-cent tax plan.
The board also accepted the resignation effective Dec. 31 of Mark Richterman. Richterman has spent 12 years as principal of the Baton Rouge Center for the Visual and Performing Arts, an A-rated magnet school, and has more than 43 years as an educator. Richterman is one of a handful of veteran administrators whom the school system rehired years back after allowing them to retire and start collecting pensions.
Richterman said he told his faculty a couple of months ago of his plans to retire. He said he originally planned to retire at the end of the 2014-15 school year in May but then reconsidered, saying he saw no reason to wait.