Acknowledging he opted too late to seek community input, East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Warren Drake on Thursday removed controversial proposals to merge schools in the Capitol, Broadmoor and Glen Oaks areas, allowing easy passage of a larger package of school changes.
“I did not engage the community like I should have,” Drake said. “I take responsibility for that.”
The three pulled proposals were not set to go into effect until the start of the 2018-19 school year. Consequently, Drake said, school leaders have more time to debate what best to do with the six affected schools.
State Rep. Pat Smith, a former School Board president, thanked Drake for pulling the items, but said he needs to do better at reaching out to those affected by the changes.
“There’s an old saying that if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” Smith said. “I’ve found that many of the schools in my district are on the menu.”
After Drake’s last-minute deferral, the months-in-development Plan for Academic Innovation and Organizational Efficiency sailed through unanimously.
The board on April 6 voted 6-2-1 in favor of a preliminary, more controversial version of the plan. Board members Dawn Collins and Kenyetta Nelson-Smith voted no that night while Vereta Lee abstained.
The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Thursday advanced plans to merge, expand or relo…
The idea was to merge low-enrollment public schools while at the same time expanding popular programs.
“Many of the schools we’ve built in the past 10 years are not full capacity, and many of them are at half capacity,” Drake explained.
The revised plan approved Thursday merges only four schools: Claiborne and Howell Park elementary schools, and Istrouma High and Brookstown Middle School, specifically its magnet program. Woodlawn Middle and High schools add new magnet programs. These moves go into effect Aug. 10 with the the start of the 2017-18 school year.
BR FLAIM will relocate to the former Valley Park Junior High campus and vacate its current homes at Polk Elementary and the former South Boulevard campus. The move to Valley Park won't go into effect until the start of the 2018-19 school year.
On hold are proposals to merge Capitol and Park elementary schools, merge Broadmoor elementary and middle schools into one school focusing on grades kindergarten to eight, and add middle school grades to Glen Oaks.
Supporters of Park Elementary were the loudest in opposition, upset with shutting down the 2700 Fuqua Street campus. They held a community meeting Wednesday night at the school that drew almost 100 people. Many were unhappy that Drake wanted to divert to other schools the $20 million that had been slated to rebuild Park and they urged the superintendent to reconsider the idea.
Tommie Gipson, pastor of Donaldson Chapel Baptist Church, which is across the street from Park Elementary, said he’s happy that closing Park is off the table for now. But Gipson, a former School Board member, made clear he expects Drake to do more than just keeping Park operating.
“We expect a (new) school to be built there,” Gipson said.
The decision to put off closing Park prompted delaying the mergers of the Broadmoor elementary and middle schools as well as as the merger of Glen Oaks High and North Banks Middle. Drake was planning to use some of the $21.7 million to pay for additions to Broadmoor Elementary and Glen Oaks High schools.
The final plan also dropped the idea of adding high school grades to Mayfair Lab, a popular A-rated magnet school that opened in 2013. Drake said Mayfair may still get a high school. One possibility is the new high school could be added to the next round of school construction projects if voters renew in 2018 a 1-cent sales tax for schools, he said.
Corey Delahoussaye, an active Mayfair parent who has pressed the board for better facilities for the school, was upset. He noted that new schools have not built east of Mayfair and that the area has been neglected. He also said Mayfair’s campus needs work.
“We’re going to be teaching kids in our parking lot because we’ve run out of space,” he said.
Finally, White Hills Elementary, which is near Baker and has just 150 students, will stay up another year at least. It has been on the chopping block for years. Drake saved the small school from closure in 2015 and now he’s asking the board to save it again and give the C-rated school at least another year to operate. He said closing the elementary school would save little money and he’s not satisfied with the alternatives he’s seen to date for children at that school.