EBR School Board members begin process of reducing board's size

EBR School Board members begin process of reducing board's size
Photo provided by staff

POSTED: Friday, June 6, 2014 - 4:00am

UPDATED: Friday, June 6, 2014 - 4:04am

The shape of the East Baton Rouge School Board is at stake, and members are clearly divided about what it should look like.

"Are there any members that would like to introduce a plan?" board president David Tatman asked, setting off a quick but charged discussion about redistricting Thursday night.

Five options were submitted. Three of them would reduce the size of the board from 11 members to nine; the others would drop it to 10 or seven.

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber tried and failed to cut the number of board members during the legislative session, and some of those members questioned why it was up for discussion again.

"We're bringing it because I brought it forward," Tatman stated. "And since I've been president of this board, any member that's asked for anything to be an agenda item, I have put it on the agenda. And so I felt it was appropriate that if I wanted something to be considered, that I would bring that forward." 

Redistricting happens at least once every ten years, to coincide with new census data. The board also changed its borders after the back in 2012. According to board member Vereta Lee, it paid $24,000 at that time in consultant fees and advertising, and would have to pay roughly the same amount now.

"We are not being good stewards of taxpayers' dollars, running plans in the paper that may not get six votes to vote on," she argued.

There is also a worry that changing the boundaries would bring the Justice Department back to town to look at voting rights violations.

"I would hate to see this board brought back in federal court under any circumstances," board member Tarvald Smith said, "but that is a risk that we would run."

Proponents contend that shrinking the board would save on salaries and improve the efficiency of the decision-making process. Others claim that, with elections this fall, it could be a way to force certain members out.

"If we want to reduce the size of the board; I'm not for that, but who does want to reduce the size of the board, why don't you just eliminate yourself off the board by resigning tonight," Lee said. "And that will reduce the size of the board."

Nobody took Lee up on that suggestion.

The board will vote on the proposals during a special meeting on July 24. If none of them receive approval from a majority of the board, the current configuration will remain in place. If a change is accepted, there will be enough time for the redrawn districts to take effect by November's election, when each board member's term ends.

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