The new census figures were released, and The Advocate reported that from 2012 to 2013 our city lost 580 people and the unincorporated area of EBR gained 940.
That is a net gain of only 360 people for the parish of our capital city. I would challenge that analysis and ask someone to recalculate the figures, discounting the changes that are due to births and deaths. I bet you will see a much larger “drop” based on adults moving in and out of the city. This was happening in 2000, over a decade ago—and then, as now, good schools were the issue. Why have we not learned?
It baffles me that our community, business and local elected leaders have, for the most part, avoided tough decisions and left the schools issue up to our school boards, the unions and the numerous superintendents for many years. They have failed our community and our children; and our parish population, outside the cities of Zachary and Central, continues to decline. (We like to focus on our “metro area,” which has grown, but that creates expensive sprawl as in other metros.)
Is it any surprise that parents want good schools for their children? Do you understand why a parent paying taxes for schools does not want to pay twice with private tuition? So we have continued to see residents move out of our parish for more than a decade, making Livingston and Ascension the fastest growing parishes in Louisiana. We have seen Zachary and Central form their own school districts to escape the madness known as EBR public schools. Check the results. Zachary was one of the top-three fastest growing cities in Louisiana. Central was also up.
The problem really came home to roost for East Baton Rouge when the Legislature failed twice to allow parents in the southeast part of our parish the chance to vote, like Zachary and Central, on establishing an independent school district. The desire for good schools did not go away—it morphed into a petition for a new city. Avoiding a solution to the problem didn’t make it go away—it got bigger. Where was the vision? Where was the leadership?
The amount of effort and urgent activity at the Legislature and Metro Council to fix the problems makes me ask, Where has everyone been? This is not a new issue for EBR. If there had been just half this effort a decade ago, I doubt we would be discussing any “Saint.” Zachary, Central and now St. George are symptoms of a problem—our schools. But we often avoid decisions until there is crisis; then we have no choice but to act. That is not the way to build a great city.
If you want to see one of the reasons we have such bad schools, you just need to look at some of the comments in the press by those in leadership positions. (Who will stand up to them?)
• EBR School Superintendent Bernard Taylor on Sen. Bodi White’s bill for semi-autonomous districts in EBR and giving more authority to principals: “This is lunacy. It’s sadder than sad. We are making improvements. We are making academic progress. Financially, we couldn’t be more stable. But it’s still not good enough. The real issue is that the people want certain kids to only go to school with certain kids, and it’s time to put this out on the table.”
There is lunacy afoot, and it comes from Taylor. He needs to go. Now.
• State Rep. Pat Smith, a former member of the EBR school board:
Smith had a bill in the current session that would mandate sex education in public schools. Smith pleaded with the committee, saying, “It is about time we think about the children. There are children being abused because no one talks about it.”
Was she thinking about children when she was on the school board and refused to support KIPP Academy opening here to help our children? What a hypocrite. Why not mandate reading and writing in public schools?
I recently met an African-American child who is in the sixth grade in a small private school in the Gardere area. When he came to the school after fourth grade in an EBR public school, he could barely write his name, and he was reading at pre-K level. How does that happen? Now, two years later, he is almost reading at grade level and has a future. He could learn, given a proper chance, and he did. But who was paid for five years to educate this child? What did EBR and the state get for its investment of $50,000 in this child (K-4)? And what did he get? This, Representative Smith, is abuse. I am sure there is much blame to go around. But this child found an option for his education, and it may literally have saved his life. How can anyone oppose that? KIPP Academy could have done that for thousands of children over the last decade in EBR. Would Rep. Smith and the unions rather this child remain in his failed school and eventually drop out, still functionally unable to read and write?
• Michael Deshotels, former head of the Louisiana Association of Educators union, wrote the following in his blog after HB 703 by Rep. John Bel Edwards (chairman of the House Democratic caucus and a candidate for governor) was defeated in the Senate Education Committee.
“The Senate Education Committee ignored the concerns of all the major public school stakeholders and sided with the charter school managers and other haters of public schools in killing HB 703. As I explained in previous posts, HB 703 would have prevented the proliferation of preadatory [sic] charters throughout the state. These are charter schools that are doing serious damage to our public education system and at the same time destroying the education profession.”
Deshotels and the unions are worried about protecting adults and their jobs—not the children. Post-Katrina, charters and scholarship vouchers have completely reformed and rescued the New Orleans schools and children from the cesspool they were in. New Orleans has become a turnaround model for the nation, with more than 85% of children attending a charter and thousands using scholarships to attend the school they choose. School choice, including vouchers and charters, are the last hope for north Baton Rouge (led by New Schools for Baton Rouge) after EBR has failed them for decades. Who can be against changing that?
• We honored our veterans yesterday for their service and sacrifice for our country and for each of us. We enjoy freedom in the greatest country on Earth because of what they did. It is hard for most of us to even imagine war—or losing loved ones to battle. We should honor our veterans every day.
• We honor nine influential women in our community, who are profiled in this issue. We are blessed with many talented women in the Capital Region, and that bodes well for our future. Julio Melara and I also want to thank all the women in our company who are committed to excellence and our community. Three out of four staff members on our team are women—and you wouldn’t be enjoying our publications without their creativity, leadership and hard work.