East Baton Rouge School Board to tackle budget, charter schools, magnet programs at meeting Thursday _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- East Baton Rouge Parish Schools Superintendent Warren Drake.

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Thursday will hold the first of at least two public hearings on its proposed $460 million general operating budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The board also will decide on four charter school applicants, debate closing White Hills Elementary, and consider creating new magnet programs at Capitol and Southeast middle schools.

Thursday is also Warren Drake’s first opportunity to sit in the big chair. Drake took over as acting superintendent Monday after outgoing Superintendent Bernard Taylor opted to take leave for his final month. Drake, formerly head of the top-rated Zachary school district, takes over as permanent superintendent in East Baton Rouge Parish on July 1.

Taylor prepared the 344-page budget the School Board will review Thursday for the first time. Projected spending outpaces revenue by nearly $30 million. But because its reserves are currently strong, the school system still expects to end the 2015-16 fiscal year with about $25 million in the bank.

The biggest anticipated added new cost, about $11.7 million, is to pay for new and expanding charter schools, some connected with the school system, some independent. Three new charter schools are slated to open in August and others continue to expand. Charter schools are public schools run by private organizations via contracts.

Other big expenses include $5.1 million for a new machine shop and service station for school buses; $3 million more for textbooks; and $2.7 million for new buses.

The general fund budget is by far the largest of dozens of budgets the School Board approves each year, representing about 80 percent of all spending. The board is expected to approve the budget when it meets June 18.

Here are a few other items the board will wrestle with Thursday:

Proposals from four private groups seeking to start Type 1 charter schools in Baton Rouge in fall 2016. An outside evaluator has recommended rejecting all four. The applicants can appeal to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to operate as a Type 2 charter under that agency’s authority. BESE would have until Oct. 14 to rule on any appeals.

— A proposal to close White Hills Elementary unless the small school can enroll 100 students by June 30 in addition to the 188 it currently enrolls. The closure is Taylor’s idea but Drake is asking the School Board to keep the school for one more year to give it a better chance to grow its enrollment.

— Opening new magnet programs this fall at both Capitol and Southeast middle schools. Capitol’s would focus on digital arts and technology, while Southeast’s would focus on computer game design and animation. A related proposal would add gifted-and-talented services at Capitol Middle, but only within Capitol’s attendance zone, which the board expanded May 21.

— Adopting 10 performance targets for Drake. The new superintendent could earn up to $2,000 for each target achieved and no more than $20,000 total, in addition to his $225,000 annual salary approved May 7. The top target, improving student achievement, is achieved if the school system meets at least four out of seven sub-targets, ranging from increasing the percentage of children who score 18 or above on the ACT college placement test to reducing the number of students who are truant.

Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.