The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Thursday put off until June 1 a cost-cutting proposal to close White Hills Elementary School near Baker because of declining enrollment.
Several White Hills teachers, parents and supporters objected Thursday, saying they just learned of the proposal and the school hasn’t had enough time to try to recruit new students.
“It was just a slap in the face to see that the school is going to close, and what am I going to do with my children?” asked Lakendra Johnson, who has two children at the school.
Helen Connor said her grandson can’t wait to go to school every morning at White Hills.
“I can tell you that is truly a little bit of paradise that you don’t want to lose,” Connor said.
The vote to postpone closing White Hills was 6-3, with Vereta Lee, Kenyetta Nelson-Smith and Tarvald Smith casting dissenting votes. Closing the school would save an estimated $2.3 million.
Lee, who represents the area, urged dropping the idea entirely, saying it was brought too late in the school year for families to find new schools to attend.
White Hills has just 186 students and has been losing students for years. The school lost 55 students in the past year, perhaps because two new charter schools, Advantage Charter Academy and Impact Charter School, opened in Baker in May. These schools can take students across school district lines.
Superintendent Bernard Taylor said he has given principals at schools competing with new charter schools the challenge to attract new students to offset the ones they are losing.
In the case of White Hills, Taylor said he gave Principal Dawn Brewster the task of recruiting 100 students to make up the losses and is dissatisfied with the school’s progress. He noted that as more charter schools open, the enrollment problem at the school is likely to get worse.
“A hundred, which is almost twice what they lost, that does not seem reasonable to me,” board member Connie Bernard responded.
Taylor said he set a high goal on purpose so they take the enrollment threat seriously.
“What we are trying to do is get back to at least what they were,” Taylor said.
The board also put off until June 1 a related proposal to move an alternative school, EBR Readiness Academy, to the White Hills campus from its location at Town South Shopping Center on Staring Lane. That move would save $400,000 a year in rent.
The board heard Thursday the recommendation of an outside evaluator to reject proposals from four private groups to start what are known as Type 1 charters in Baton Rouge in fall 2016.
The four applicants and what they are proposing are as follows: APEX Southeast Inc., which wants to open a sixth- to 12th-grade school for up to 690 students; Communities Shaping Education, which proposed a kindergarten to fifth-grade school topping at 288 students; Crossover House, which would run an alternative high school for 224 students; and Laurel Oaks Foundation Inc, which would open a kindergarten to eighth-grade elementary topping at 716 students.
Outside evaluator Kimberly Williams said all four proposals had their strengths but were undermined by a variety of weaknesses. For instance, Crossover House’s team was strong in terms of dealing with social and emotional issues of troubled teenagers, but she was not impressed by their academic plan or experience.
The board plans to take up the item when it meets again on May 21, but it legally has until June 4 to approve or reject the applications. If rejected, applicants can appeal to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Williams said she expects at least two of the four applicants will appeal. BESE has until Oct. 14 to rule on those appeals.
Also Thursday, the board recommended in a unanimous vote to move 324 incoming students who would have gone to Glasgow, Southeast and Westdale Middle schools this fall to other middle schools. Most would go to Capitol Middle School, but 33 students would head to Broadmoor Middle and 20 students would move to Brookstown Middle. The board will take this issue up again for final consideration at its May 21 meeting.