The end of November is now the target finish date for a special committee of local residents charged with rewriting the East Baton Rouge Parish school system’s six-year-old strategic plan.

“If we get to a complete draft by the end of this month, that would be terrific,” said Ruby Gomez, a partner with SSA Consultants, who is serving as the facilitator of the rewrite, on Tuesday.

The Committee for Educational Excellence began work in May and had originally planned to finish its work by August but has seen that timeline slip considerably.

The committee, after a two month hiatus, met Thursday then again Tuesday in hopes of reaching the finish line, but it was clear there was still a lot of work left to do.

When complete, the committee’s strategic plan will go to the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board for a review and an eventual vote.

Gomez spent much of that two-month hiatus trying to marry the disparate work of six subcommittees set up to focus on different educational subject areas.

On Thursday, the main committee received final reports from five of its six subcommittees, all given specific subject areas to explore.

The committee discussed two of those reports Thursday and heard the other three Tuesday.

The only holdout is the Academic Expectations subcommittee led by accountant Slater McKay and Heather Moret.

That subcommittee is trying to mesh its work so far with new state-level academic goals for schools.

The biggest debate Tuesday arose over school choice.

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The Neighborhood Schooling/School Choice/Parental Involvement Committee has recommended as Strategy 2 to provide “universal access to educational choices” including providing whatever necessary transportation to parents who make those choices.

A lawyer and vice president of SGS Petroleum Service Corp, Cordell Haymon, said he supports school choice, but said expanding it would require a much larger bus fleet, one the schools can’t afford.

“It would be perfect if we had a perfectly efficient transportation system,” he said.

“We don’t have that, and we’re not going to have the financial ability to afford an even bigger transportation system than the one we’re already burdened with.”

That money would be better spent improving existing schools over the next five to 10 years in the ways the strategic plan calls for, Haymon said.

The head of that subcommittee, Verni Howard, a vice president at Hancock Bank, defended the strategy, adding families in some neighborhoods don’t have good options close to home and need to be able to go to schools farther away.

“The reality is we have a ‘have’ and a ‘have-not’ population,” Howard said.

Gomez acknowledged the difficulty of sorting out that debate.

“It’s a tough issue and as you all have articulated, the tension points are between the future and the present,” he said.

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