East Baton Rouge School Board moves closer to gaining control of now-shuttered Istrouma High _lowres

Advocate file photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Doors and windows are boarded up at the closed Istrouma High School on Winbourne Avenue in Baton Rouge, as seen on April 13, 2015. The East Baton Rouge Parish school system and Louisiana Department Education have reached a tentative agreement to return Istrouma High to local control and reopen it as a neighborhood high school in August 2016.

After months of behind-the-scenes talks, Louisiana’s top school board has authorized state Superintendent of Education John White to see if an agreement can be reached with the East Baton Rouge Parish school system for using Istrouma High in 2016.

One of the key issues is how to finance up to $15 million in improvements at the north Baton Rouge school.

“We are ready, willing and able to get this school back,” East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Warren Drake told the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education last week.

Istrouma High, which was founded in 1917, has been under state control since 2012 after years of academic problems.

It was closed last year by the state-run Recovery School District.

Drake told BESE it will take “at least” $15 million to get the school in shape for classes in August of 2016.

BESE President Chas Roemer, who has been discussing the issue with local officials for about six months, said who is responsible for financing the repairs and other details remain unresolved.

Roemer also said there are other RSD schools in the district that need improvements, with no clear way to pay for them.

“I am not suggesting blame on another party,” he said Monday. “I am just suggesting that that needs to get resolved.”

The Roemer-sponsored motion approved by BESE authorizes White to see whether a memorandum of understanding can be reached with the East Baton Rouge Parish school system “regarding the use of the Istrouma High School facility for the 2016-17 school year.”

It also directs White to see if an agreement can be reached on capital repairs for RSD schools in East Baton Rouge Parish, including Istrouma High.

District officials clearly hoped something more definitive would emerge from last week’s meeting.

Drake said local school leaders need answers by the end of the month to have time to make the needed repairs.

Barbara Freiberg, a member of the local board and a former BESE official, told the state panel there is urgency to get the issue resolved.

Freiberg said she was disappointed that issues surrounding the school were listed on the BESE agenda in a way that ensured nothing definitive would happen last week.

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