As we are now in double figures for announced candidates for East Baton Rouge Parish mayor-president, it’s time to call the lot of them down on one of the most common lies of the political life.
That is the mayor’s role in shaping public education.
Whatever you hear from the 10 announced candidates, the promise they are possibly the least likely to fulfill is to have any meaningful impact on public schools.
Yes, schools are important, and mayors ought to be in favor of education. But the job description of mayor-president has little or nothing to do with schools. At the margins, city-parish government has to connect with schools public and private; a mayor has some political heft and thus can be useful in supporting taxes for education.
One can imagine city government having something to say about physical surroundings of schools — say, in enhancing police protection around a school or collaborating with the School Board to find a new purpose for a closed campus.
In big cities, with mayors in control of comparable tax bases and having direct charge of school systems — read, New York City — a mayor might promote a goal such as universal preschool. The authority and financing for such an initiative does not exist in City Hall in Baton Rouge.
The last Baton Rouge mayor to have a significant policy role in education, though it was mostly symbolic, was Bobby Simpson. The former Baker mayor had promoted a separate school system for his town, and when elected parishwide, he became a vocal advocate for settlement of the long-standing desegregation lawsuit in East Baton Rouge schools.
Even that, though, had little to do with the mayor-president’s job description.
The relevance of public education to the parish’s advancement and future economic prospects is incredibly important. To the extent that the mayor can be a cheerleader in these causes might be very useful. But “education” as a poll-tested subject for discussion, a fly cast over the political waters, should not give the public the impression that the candidate will actually do something about it.
Is there any issue where the candidates’ positions make a difference in schools?
Perhaps it is St. George, the breakaway effort for a new city — and thus, eventually, school district — of some southeast neighborhoods. That effort failed, and city-parish government has protected its tax base by annexing into the city limits some of the treasured stores, L’Auberge casino and other tax-paying institutions in the area.
Two candidates, Metro Councilman John Delgado and state Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, were players in that drama. The movement didn’t advance far enough to create St. George City, which Delgado opposed, much less the St. George school district that White supported.
Creation of St. George by snatching the city-parish’s tax base appears to be difficult legally now, but if there is a long-range question of education, it is whether a mayor-president would back the city as a route to a new school district.
That might draw a candidate some votes from St. George backers, but it also might enrage other voters who work for the parish’s school district. The parish district’s finances, and thus the jobs of teachers and staff, might be devastated by the wrong outcome to that debate.
Education is a fine buzzword in the polls, but other than the St. George debate, it’s not something a mayor-president has much to do with, except as a cheerleader — and perhaps not even the head cheerleader.
Louis Curet: To the very last, Mr. Curet — it would never do to refer to him differently — was active in community meetings and events. His death at 88 is a great loss to not only the legal profession he adorned but the good works that he supported, particularly his beloved LSU.
When we last talked, at a reception for Leadership Louisiana participants near the State Capitol, he was — as always — looking forward to solutions to the problems across the lake, not looking back. He will be greatly missed.
Email Lanny Keller at email@example.com.