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A large crowd gathers at the East Baton Rouge School Board meeting on Thursday, May 18, 2017.

As the East Baton Rouge Parish school system gets serious about buying land for new schools in school-scarce south Baton Rouge, the School Board is demanding to be much more involved.

The School Board on Thursday voted 5-1 to amend a routine resolution to insert the board in the middle of the purchasing process.

Board member David Tatman voted no. Board members Mark Bellue, Connie Bernard and Mike Gaudet were absent.

Superintendent Warren Drake has been looking for land for schools called for in the construction program approved by voters in April 2018 when they renewed a 1-cent sales tax for 10 more years. That construction program sets aside $90 million for new schools somewhere in south Baton Rouge. About $10 million of that can be used for land purchases.

Drake was asking the board Thursday to let him hire Cook Moore Davenport and Associates to appraise property and Phelps Dunbar law firm “to handle the preparation of purchase agreements, title and perform closing services for those properties.”

Tatman made a motion to approve the standard resolution as is. It allowed the superintendent to enter into purchase agreements for land but the board would have final approval.

That wasn’t good enough for board member Dadrius Lanus.

“As the resolution currently reads it gives the board little-to-no input as to the acquisition of land,” Lanus said. “I would like language added that would bring this back to the board just so we’d know what was going on.”

Lanus then asked Tatman to change his motion, suggesting multiple language changes. Tatman balked.

“That’s the most complicated motion I’ve seen, even in the Legislature,” said Tatman, who is a registered lobbyist.

Tatman asked Lanus to hold off a month so he could read a copy of his suggested changes rather than just try to make sense of them orally. Lanus, however, did not want to wait and offered his changes as a substitute motion, which passed quickly with little discussion.

In other action, the board postponed until June 20 a proposed 6.4 percent hike in monthly premiums for employees, both active and retired, who use insurance provided by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana, after it couldn’t get five votes. The increase would take effect in January.

Three board members were absent Thursday and then Tatman left the meeting right before the vote, meaning just five members were present, the minimum for a quorum. Then board member Jill Dyason recused herself, leaving only four board members left to vote on the item.

Mercer, the human resources firm acting as the school system’s health care consultant, is predicting employee medical expenses in 2020 will increase by almost 11 percent. That’s about $6.8 million more than that coverage costs now.

The proposed monthly premium increases would fill nearly $4 million of that $6.8 million gap. The rest would be filled by raising deductibles, out-of-pocket minimums and by offering a third Blue Cross plan that offers employees big incentives to use doctors and medical facilities only in its network.


Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.