The formation of a St. George independent school district would force more than 6,000 kids to change schools — up to 20 percent of the students in the parish school system — and St. George leaders would have to build as many as eight new elementary schools to handle the influx, according to an analysis released Saturday by St. George opponents.
The new analysis released by church leaders in Gardere, one of the most affected parts of St. George, also says a handful of Baton Rouge schools would be all but emptied out.
The leaders gathered at Greater Sixty-Aid Baptist Church to state their firm opposition to the formation of a new school district because of the potential impact as reflected by an analysis that was based on data compiled from public records.
“This will weaken and virtually destroy the East Baton Rouge Parish school system as we know it,” said the Rev. Reginald Pitcher, a pastor at Greater Sixty-Aid Baptist Church. “Those who need the least will get the most.”
St. George advocate Lionel Rainey III disagreed with the report’s conclusions and pointed out the high numbers of failing schools in East Baton Rouge Parish.
“Continuing to do the same thing for the sake of maintaining the status quo is simply unacceptable,” Rainey said in an email.
St. George organizers recently turned in more than 18,000 signatures for a petition in hopes of getting the matter on the ballot in March. If successful in that election, they plan to then press the Legislature to break up the East Baton Rouge Parish school system and create a companion St. George school district.
A St. George with an identical city and school district would cause 8,347 students to change schools. Twenty-seven percent of the potentially displaced children are in magnet schools, while 53 percent attend traditional schools.
If organizers then passed a proposed school district that went beyond that city’s limits, the impact in terms of students having to change schools would be smaller, with 6,621 students displaced. Most of that displacement would be from attendance zone schools, according to Together Baton Rouge organizer Brod Bagert.
The Together Baton Rouge analysis focused on what would happen if the new school district mirrored the line of the new proposed city of St. George. While 80 schools would be affected, at least three schools — Cedarcrest-Southmoor, Wedgewood and Parkview elementary schools — would lose more than 90 percent of their students. Parkview was recently recognized as the only Blue Ribbon public school in the parish district, the analysis says.
The Gardere area, where the Greater Sixty-Aid church is located, would be especially affected. Three schools that draw students from nearby — Highland, Magnolia Woods and Wildwood elementary schools — would lose about three-quarters or more of their current students.
The new St. George district would have little to no classroom space to take in the 1,000 displaced students just from those three schools. St. George supporters in December proposed building six new schools to handle all the students.
Recently, St. George leader Norman Browning lowered that to three or four new schools, but Bagert suggests it is more likely that 12 new schools would need to be built: eight elementary, two middle and two high schools. His estimates are based on maximum enrollment for elementary schools of 450 students, middle schools of 850 students and high schools of 1,200 students.
Several Gardere area residents also spoke out against the proposal.
“I’m very pleased with my children’s schools,” said Leann Davis, whose two daughters would have to change schools under the proposed school district. “I don’t think it’s right for someone to step in and say what’s right for my children.”
Another Gardere-area resident, Kimberly Stevenson, a mother of three, said her kids were happy where they were and worries how her kids would get to a different school on the already struggling bus system.
“It wouldn’t be a good idea,” she said.
The enrollment snapshot Bagert relied on comes from Wednesday, Sept. 10, about one month into the current 2014-15 school year.
Bagert said Saturday’s event was sparked by a meeting he had in late October with dozens of Gardere community members where he laid out the scale of the displacement he was seeing in the data.
“It was just a shock of recognition,” Bagert said.