With several potentially controversial proposals before them, East Baton Rouge Parish School Board members concentrated Saturday on a debate over a proposal to redraw attendance zone lines at five high schools, including Woodlawn High School.

At odds with each other were School Board members Connie Bernard and Jill Dyason, who represent areas that fall within the proposed city of St. George, which fell just 71 signatures short in 2015 of making the ballot. Part of the proposed city included a future plan to seek a separate school district. 

They argued about whether one of the proposals, transferring 200 students who live near where Interstate 10 intersects with Siegen Lane from Woodlawn to Tara High, would help or hurt the chance of a renewed St. George petition drive. Woodlawn High was to be the sole St. George high school.

Dyason argued that the zone change would help give St. George supporters a smaller zone that would more closely resemble the Woodlawn community school that they have supported in the past. 

“We don’t have to ask them what they want,” she said. “They’ve told us what they want.”

Bernard argued the move could backfire. She said that the area in question includes a mix of St. George supporters and opponents who would be more likely to support a St. George petition if compelled to move their kids to Tara.

Standing in front of map projected on a screen, Bernard said, “It may solve problems for people in this area,” pointing to Woodlawn. “It does not satisfy people who are in this area,” she added, pointing towards the affected area.

Board member Dawn Collins quizzed Dyason at length about why she’s pressing so hard for the proposed change.

“How do we give people what they want, but not do it so it’s at the expense of others?” Collins asked at one point.

The passionate debate broke out Saturday about three hours into a four-hour Saturday retreat that was otherwise subdued. No votes were taken. More retreats are planned.

Superintendent Warren Drake spent most of the meeting laying out plans to close, reconfigure, merge or relocate a dozen schools. In the process, Glen Oaks High would add a middle school, two new elementaries would open focusing on grades kindergarten to eight, BR FLAIM would relocate to the former Valley Park Junior High campus, and Mayfair Lab would add high school grades. He received little pushback for most of what he suggested.

Drake emphasized that his recommendations are subject to change.

“Remember this is a proposal,” he said. “This is not a final plan.”

He said, however, that the changes that would take effect this fall with the start of the 2017-18 school year will need to be voted on soon, probably in April. He also said he also wants to have meetings to explain the most disruptive changes to affected communities.

The proposed high school zone changes were the last item discussed Saturday. They are prompted by the planned reopening of Istrouma High School in August. Adding a ninth neighborhood public high school to the parish school system is prompting a ripple effect in many of the other high schools.

Drake wants to create a new Istrouma with 652 students initially, 300 in a middle school program and 352 ninth- and 10th-graders who would otherwise attend Belaire and Broadmoor high schools. That in turn would force as many as 1,300 more ninth- and 10th-graders to change high schools, including ones at Tara and Woodlawn high schools.

The discussion broke down over the idea of shifting 200 students from Woodlawn High to Tara High. An estimated 134 live in an area bounded by Airline Highway in the north, Highland Road in the south, Siegen Lane in the west and Pecue Lane in the east. Another 64 live in a triangle bounded by Airline, and Coursey and Sherwood Forest boulevards.

Dyason was elected in 2001, making her the longest serving member of the board. Her District 6 is completely within the boundaries of the proposed city of St. George.

She has pressed for years to shrink the zones of public schools in the Woodlawn area and she hit the issue again. She argues that smaller zones would create more space for those schools to “grow programs,” including their gifted-and-talented programs that would attract more middle class families.

More broadly, Dyason views zone changes as a first step towards restoring trust in public schools in the southeast portion of the parish. She noted that she did not sign the St. George petition but knows many St. George leaders and is acutely aware of the public education issues that inspire them.

“You have to show them with action steps that we are listening,” Dyason said.

Bernard, who represents District 8, which also includes much of St. George, has other ideas of how to inspire potential supporters of St. George to want to stay with the parish school system. She’s arguing for the expansion of Mayfair Lab, created in 2013, into a high school. Mayfair Principal Christa Bordelon was present and spoke Saturday, as did an active parent at the school, Corey Delahoussaye.

Superintendent Drake said he likes the idea, saying it would add another option for parents in that area, who don’t have a public high school close by. He said the idea is to add an International Baccalaureate program to the school, similar to its parent school, LSU Lab School. He also said the high school could be built either on Mayfair’s campus at 9880 Hyacinth Avenue or at another location.

Dyason expressed misgivings. She said she went along with the creation of Mayfair Lab in 2013, although she said she would have preferred that it had been made into a neighborhood school rather than a magnet school. She worried that a high school at that location would be too far away from the bulk of the southeast area to improve support for public schools in the southeast Baton Rouge area.

Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier