The Louisiana House will have an opportunity to destroy public education in Baton Rouge this week. I urge readers to ask their representatives to reject Senate Bill 636, the most recent in a tiresome series of attacks on local public education by Senator Mack “Bodi” White (joined this time by Senator Dan Claitor).

The bill’s authors present (without supporting evidence) an argument that large school systems have unique problems. By omitting the largest school district in the state (Jefferson Parish), they removed any pretense that this bill is anything but another attack on Baton Rouge schools.

Unlike either Sen. White or Sen. Claitor, or the other people who have publicly supported the bill, I have attended many meetings during the current school board’s term and have often spoken publicly in opposition to board and administration policies. Unfortunately, SB 636 would solve none of the system’s existing problems but would add more.

The bill attempts a transition to a New-Orleans-style system of charter schools with no accountability to taxpayers and no safety net for students most in need. Any empowerment of principals should be at the direction of the elected local school board. I do not want principals of neighborhood schools to have the personal authority to eliminate music, art, recess or physical education at their schools.

The bill says: “... the local school board shall have no responsibility for the development, adoption or approval of a budget for any individual school within the school system.” I find this disturbing for very personal reasons. Shortly after my family moved to Baton Rouge in 1994, a friend who shared our concern about our two-year-old’s delayed speech development referred us to the school system’s Central Office (which this bill seeks to underfund). Our daughter was tested and referred to the Southdowns School for her three-year-old year. Because of the wonderful faculty and staff at that school, she was soon talking and within a few years no longer needed any speech therapy. That same daughter graduated last week with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Louisiana Tech University. I wonder how much she would have struggled without the help she got at Southdowns. I am concerned that the crafters of SB 636 did not consider the important place that schools like Southdowns occupy within the fabric of our community, and I do not trust the legislators to write a bill that would not put Southdowns and other jewels of the local system in peril for no clear benefit. Local educational decisions should be made by locally-elected school board members after lengthy discussion, not by legislators anxious to finish up the last week of the session.

James Finney


Baton Rouge