It’s time for a new school district

It’s time for a new school district

Public education is not about protecting any existing school system and the union jobs involved. It’s about doing what is necessary to educate children effectively, especially if what has been tried for decades is not working. That’s what I expect for my tax dollars that are collected for education. Why should we let a failed “system” in East Baton Rouge Parish control all the public money and force many parents to leave our parish or pay twice (first taxes, then private school tuition)?

Baker, Zachary and Central all got a chance to control their destiny at the ballot box, and so should the voters in the proposed new Southeast Baton Rouge district. I supported the efforts of the other three districts to break free from the EBR system, and I support this one, too. I hope the House of Representatives will vote to put it on the ballot, just as the state Senate did. It’s the right thing to do for these parents and children who have been trapped in a failing district, which is one of the worst in the state despite expenditures of more than $10,000 per student.

In the Senate debate last week, The Advocate reported, Sen. Sharon Weston Broome took issue with Sen. Bodi White’s bill for the new district. She claimed dismantling the system is not the answer. I disagree with her on that. Why be concerned for the “system,” which I do not believe is designed to serve the best interests of the children?

Broome argued that leaving one segment of the school population behind “to just suffer, that is not being community-minded.” On the contrary, I would argue that charter schools and vouchers and the attempt by KIPP Academy to open here years ago are all community-minded and aimed to help the one segment she refers to. But check the votes of Broome and her colleagues in the black community on these issues and see how they voted. They were the ones who left these opportunities behind, resulting in children trapped in failing schools. Was that “community-minded”?

Her attempt to amend the bill, which would have forced the new district to pay millions for legacy costs, failed. Broome said, “With all of these breakaways, we will be bankrupt if this is not addressed.”

The EBR system is bankrupt academically, but it had a surplus in taxes collected last year. If it does go bankrupt, it will be for the same reason that businesses go bankrupt—failure to serve the customer with a quality product. It could get away with that when it had its government-run monopoly. That’s why they have fought school choice and new districts. They can’t compete—and they just won’t change. The old union-controlled, government-run system is a broken model. It’s dead. Broome needs to admit that and tell the EBR board and new superintendent to bury it.

On top of the comments by Broome, the new EBR superintendent, Bernard Taylor, seems surprised by the bills. (Certainly he knew of this issue when he accepted the job.) According to The Advocate, at a recent meeting he said, “This is supposed to be a time for me to find a place to live, figure out the lay of the land ... but this issue threatens the very survival of the school district.”

He may be new to Baton Rouge, but these parents and children have been living with this failed district and are ready for action now. Children only get to grow up once, and they are not concerned about Taylor finding a house and settling in. He finds himself in this continuing “EBR mess” due to the fact that the board wasted three years with John Dilworth at the helm (a guy who quit twice). That is the board’s problem, and they made their bed. (I know only five of the current board members hired Dilworth.) The parents and children in southeast Baton Rouge shouldn’t have to lie in it anymore. They can make their own bed.

The legislators and voters should not make them suffer any more by delaying action again. They should pass the bill and let us vote on it this November. This new area has residents and parents who want to be involved in their schools in the same way as residents in Central and Zachary, both top 10 districts in the state. This new district could give Baton Rouge three of the top 10 districts in the state, and that is great for children and an asset for economic development as we recruit new companies and executives. We should not deny these parents or our community that chance. I applaud and support their efforts.

BRAVE priorities

Would you believe that our community has more than two dozen gangs? Don’t be surprised.

A March report in The Advocate noted that “Baton Rouge’s homicide rate exceeds the rates in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.” Since Hurricane Katrina, said Edward Shihadeh, LSU sociology professor and criminologist, “Baton Rouge has been flirting with being one of the most violent cities in the nation, especially when it comes to homicide.”

According to the report, “Baton Rouge had a per-capita homicide rate of 28 per 100,000 people in 2011—a 40 percent jump from a decade ago.”

Maybe that is the reason the Metro Council decided last week that fighting crime took priority over a contract with a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., that Mayor Kip Holden had wanted approved. I happen to agree—unless, of course, the law firm getting the $200,000 contract can guarantee us the $2.5 million grant or appropriation District Attorney Hillar Moore III seeks for Project BRAVE for the next five years.

Last week the council voted to provide $150,000 from the city-parish budget’s discretionary fund to jump-start Project BRAVE (Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination Project), a crime-fighting program that will focus on reducing crime in the 70805 ZIP code. As reported in Daily Report, that 3-by-3-mile area in north Baton Rouge is the “hottest of the hot spots” for criminal activity in the parish and accounts for 30% of the city’s murders, according to Moore, who hopes to have the program fully operational by the fall. Project BRAVE will be a local version of the Operation Ceasefire program, which targets a small number of chronic offenders responsible for the majority of crime. It has been used in reducing crime in other cities around the country.

I support this initiative by Moore and commend his efforts and those who have joined him. BRAVE will include all law enforcement agencies, as well as needed support from ministers and leaders in the black community. While it begins with 70805, the crime and gang issue affects our entire community and must be addressed aggressively.

The council’s move was a start, but Moore is hoping the majority of the money for Project BRAVE will come from federal funds through a grant for the next five years. Public safety and crime should be a top priority and a major issue of discussion during the fall elections.

Future entrepreneurs

I can certainly remember as a kid operating a lemonade stand on the street. It was my first business—as I am sure it was for many of you reading this, who also grew up to be entrepreneurs. That’s what Lemonade Day on May 12 is all about—growing future entrepreneurs in our community. It introduces young students to free enterprise, as well as to giving back to charity. I commend Todd Graves and Raising Cane’s for taking the lead on this project, as well as all those who sponsored it and volunteered. Business Report is proud to play a part, and we applaud all those students, parents, teachers and schools who will participate. On May 12, buy some lemonade.

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