An $8.5 million proposal to convert Scotlandville Elementary back to a middle school after several years as an elementary school has stalled due to concerns raised by some East Baton Rouge Parish School Board members.
The move is at the center of a series of moves that would reshape schools in the Scotlandville area.
The School Board is planning to hold a workshop on the issue beginning at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Catherine Fletcher, chief business operations officer, said Friday the recommendation to convert the elementary school back to a middle school hasn’t changed.
The facility at 9147 Elm Grove Garden Drive was a middle school for years, but was converted to an elementary school in 2007 and now houses about 500 children.
Since 2007, the parish school system has had four middle schools taken over by the state Department of Education for chronic low academic performance and they were converted to charter schools. They are part of the state-run Recovery School District.
Many of the children that went to those schools have transferred to a dwindling number of remaining parish-run middle schools that are now overcrowded.
Crestworth Middle, in Scotlandville, is one of those takeover schools and last year had about 150 fewer students than it did before it was taken over.
At a July 21 School Board meeting, Superintendent John Dilworth said the school system can’t wait any longer to create more middle school capacity in north Baton Rouge. He also said the move would allow the school system to compete with RSD.
“We cannot even recruit students that we may be able to get back into our district, because we don’t have capacity,” Dilworth said.
Board member Jerry Arbour has been the most outspoken with his concerns.
“I’m having a difficult time with this item,” he said. “If I had a crystal ball, this would be an easy vote.”
Arbour noted that he and Dilworth have pressed the state unsuccessfully on several occasions to return one or more of the schools to the school system. He said he’d hate to spend the money to convert Scotlandville Elementary into a middle school, which would be completed by fall 2013, only to have the state return a school in the meantime.
Arbour also has questioned whether continuing work on 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. He pointed out that sales taxes for school construction are projected to raise millions less than originally estimated.
“I see several projects that are near and dear to my heart,” Arbour said at the July 21 meeting.
“I feel like Mr. Arbour. I’m very torn. I’m not sure how I would vote tonight,” Board President Barbara Freiberg said. “I want the board comfortable doing the conversion.”
Earl Kern, program manager for CSRS/Garrard Program Management, which is overseeing school construction for the school system, said the entire construction program has a 10 percent across-the-board contingency that’s meant to account for such a shift in collections.
Kern told the board July 21 that he’s worried about related plans to rebuild Progress Elementary at $18 million, a project that’s been delayed for months. The latest proposal is to rebuild Progress as a two-story building, which would allow students to remain in the old campus during construction.
Kern told the board July 21 that time is running out.
“When you lose design time, it causes problems,” Kern said. “That’s my problem right now because we’ve lost design now. We can’t tell the architect if it’s a one-story or a two-story.”
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 respectively.
Board member Jill Dyason has raised several concerns about all the student shifts. Dyason has been pressing unsuccessfully for months for a systemwide remapping of schools to take some of the burden off overcrowded schools she represents in the southeastern part of the parish.
“Everyone wants schools and attendance zones closer to home,” she said.