Southeast incorporation talks slow, frustrating some supporters

Southeast incorporation talks slow, frustrating some supporters
Photo provided by staff

POSTED: Friday, June 28, 2013 - 5:00am

UPDATED: Friday, June 28, 2013 - 1:34pm

Talk of creating a new city in East Baton Rouge Parish continued Thursday. But not many people heard what they were waiting for.

Local Schools for Local Children held its second meeting since the end of the legislation, hoping to inform residents of south Baton Rouge about the progress it made toward creating a new school district.

After the meeting at the Bluebonnet Branch Library ended, many attendees grumbled that they did not hear enough about the idea of incorporating, one of the options floated as a route to creating the school district.

"That's just an option that we're looking at," said Norman Browning, the group's president. "If this is what the people want, I'm sure there's a way that it could be done."

The state legislature blocked the new district by failing to approve a potential constitutional amendment to fund it. Sen. Bodi White (R-Central), who drafted the legislation for the second consecutive year, first mentioned the idea of creating another new city in the parish, similar to what Central had done a few years ago.

That caused excitement for a large number of people who live outside the Baton Rouge city limits.

"And they're willing," Browning said of the members of his group. "We hear from a lot of them that are willing to incorporate, if that's what it takes to bring education to our children."

But he added that bringing about a new city is not his focus; education is. Incorporation would simply be a means to that end. Browning said one of the main criticisms of the plan that he heard from legislators is that, unlike Central, Zachary, Baker, and others, southeast Baton Rouge is not its own city.

At Local Schools for Local Children's previous meeting two weeks before, talk of incorporation brought cheers, and the crowd discussed starting to collect the signatures needed to put the idea on a ballot. But there was no such discussion Thursday night, as the discussion centered on the details of the group's educational plan.

"In the beginning, you know, we weren't looking to incorporate," Browning noted. "We wanted quality of education for our children. But because we're being pushed in that direction, we are investigating it."

A handful of people in the audience attended to voice their opposition to the plans to create a new school system and to incorporate a new city.

"I think we should stay with our existing school system and try to improve it," said Merritt McDonald, a former East Baton Rouge school board member attending his first meeting on this subject. "I think breaking it up is not the way to do [that]."

Browning told the audience that the time had passed to fix the East Baton Rouge Public School System.

"Yeah, some of the test scores went up," he noted. "But we're 30 years now, waiting on them.'Well, we have a new superintendent, give the new superintendent a chance.' How many superintendents have we been through? How many chances do we give them?"

McDonald said there was a lack of information presented in the meeting, especially for someone like him who was not a regular attendee.

"These people didn't tell us who they are, what their background is, what interests they have in doing this," he stated. "They just showed up and gave us a lot of propaganda." 

While the process of incorporation did not come up Thursday night, it will likely come up in the future, because its proponents are passionate about it. Some are already debating what to call the proposed city.

"That's how you know it's crazy, everybody wants to know about the name," Browning said, laughing. "Right now, that's not a priority [for] us. But there's some potential names that people are throwing out there. And when it comes time, we're going to let the people choose."

Browning added that no decision has been made about the boundaries of the new city. He said the group is currently evaluating all of the unincorporated area to the south and southeast of Baton Rouge, but that as the process evolves, they will consider whether each neighborhood would make sense, and possibly pare back the plan.

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