East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent John Dilworth is proposing several changes for schools in the Scotlandville area, including converting a school from an elementary to a middle school.
Dilworth sent out a June 22 memo outlining these ideas and discussed them Monday with the School Board.
Several board members had questions and concerns.
“It sounds to me like this board would like to think about this more, talk about this more,” Board President Barbara Freiberg said, suggesting more debate at the board’s July 21 meeting.
A key proposal is to convert Scotlandville Elementary to a middle school that would serve up to 950 students. That would change the current plan, approved by taxpayers in 2008, to preserve the elementary school, but add classrooms for sixth, seventh and eighth grades.
Scotlandville Elementary was a middle school until it was closed in 2003; it was then renovated and converted to an elementary school in 2007. Converting the school back to a middle school would cost an estimated $8.5 million. Construction would begin in April and finish by summer 2013.
Under the proposal, Scotlandville Elementary’s 500 students would transfer to surrounding elementary schools, especially Banks Elementary, which closed in May. Ryan and Sharon Hills elementary schools would also get six-room and four-room classroom additions, costing $4.4 million and $1.8 million each respectively.
On Monday, Dilworth said he had held off making the recommendation in hopes of persuading the state-run Recovery School District, or RSD, to return nearby Crestworth Middle School to local control. Those talks did not work out, so Dilworth told the School Board it’s time to move forward.
“We have a chance to control our destiny rather than wait two or three years to see what happens with RSD,” he said.
In 2009, the state took over Crestworth Middle and converted into a charter school, but the school is educating about 150 fewer students than it did than before it was taken over.
Other RSD middle schools are also educating fewer students than they did when operated by the parish school system. Many of those children instead are attending remaining East Baton Rouge Parish schools located much further away.
Dilworth also is recommending going forward with plans to reconstruct nearby Progress Elementary for $18 million. He said the new building will be built behind the current school campus, allowing that school to remain in session.
Also, like Claiborne Elementary, which was recently rebuilt and is set to open in August, the newly rebuilt Progress would be a two-story building, Dilworth said.
Board member Jerry Arbour questioned whether these projects can be built within their current budgets, and whether it makes to sense to add a new project, the $1.8 million addition to Ryan Elementary, to the mix.
Catherine Fletcher, chief business operations officer, said the projects will remain within their current budgets. They will be downscaled, if necessary, to stay within those budgets, she said.
Arbour, however, was not mollified. He noted that current projections are that by 2014, the school system will bring in $20 million less in sales taxes than originally projected for school construction.
Arbour asked whether continuing work on all of these projects will force the school system to cancel future projects that he wants completed, including a new Career Academy facility; the rebuilding of Lee High; and a medical magnet school.
“If we go further in the hole with these projects, there is no way we can ever catch up,” Arbour warned.