Things You Need to Know About the Breakaway School District
In the spring of 2012, a group known as Local Schools for Local Children announced that they would attempt to carve out a section of the East Baton Rouge Parish School System (EBRPSS) and create a new district. This new district would be known as the Southeast Community School District. The following schools were included in the proposed district:
- Cedarcrest , Jefferson Terrace, Parkview Oaks, Shenandoah, Wedgewood, Westminster, and Woodlawn Elementary Schools
- Southeast and Woodlawn Middle Schools
- Woodlawn High School
Such a move requires both legislative approval and approval by the voters of Louisiana. The bill passed in the Louisiana Senate but was narrowly defeated in the Louisiana House of Representatives. Local Schools for Local Children is trying again in the 2013 legislative session. This proposed district was a bad idea in 2012, and it is still a bad idea.
Why is the proposed Southeast Community School District a bad idea?
- It limits choice.
- "Choice" Students Currently, there are 2,094 students attending one of the ten schools in the proposed district that would be forced out of these schools. These children are "choice" students. This means that their neighborhood school has been deemed failing by the state of Louisiana or their neighborhood school has been placed in the state run Recovery School District. Their parents were given the option sending their children to a charter school in the RSD or attending another school in the EBRPSS. The vast majority of these choice students choose an EBRPSS school. The creation of the proposed district would create a wall between these choice students and their current school.
- Magnet and Gifted/Talented Students Currently, there are 1,136 children who reside inside the proposed district's lines that attend magnet or gifted and talented programs outside the proposed district. These students would be cut off from their school of choice and forced into the proposed district's ten schools.
- It is financially irresponsible.
- Legacy Costs Each school district has funding comprised of federal, state, and local dollars. MFP refers to the formula used to determine how much each district gets from these tax dollars per pupil. A legacy cost is the portion of the MFP per pupil that is used to pay for the health care costs of retirees.
When Zachary, Central, and Baker became independent school districts, they did not take any of their financial responsibilities for legacy costs with them. This means that the students of the EBRPSS are currently paying for their share of legacy costs plus Zachary, Central, and Baker's share. The following table illustrates how this works.
When the entire district has 60,000 students, the $40 million dollars in legacy costs is shared across the entire student population. This means only $667 of MFP per pupil is used on legacy costs. As the student population shrinks due to the breakaway districts, the legacy costs per pupil rise. These are dollars that are being pulled out of the classroom.
Why should breakaway districts bear responsibility for legacy costs incurred while they were part of the EBRPSS? Let's create two hypothetical teachers, Mr. James and Mrs. Purvis. Mr. James spent his entire career at Woodlawn High and retired five years ago. Mrs. Purvis spent her entire career at Broadmoor High and retired five years ago.
When Mr. James and Mrs. Purvis were serving the students of the EBRPSS, the residents of the proposed Southeast Community School District were part of the EBRPSS. Its citizens were part of our community's financial commitment to these teachers. Leaving our school district now does not absolve them of their financial responsibility to Mr. James and Mrs. Purvis.
If the proposed district is created, its financial obligation towards legacy costs are estimated to range from $42 million to $230 million depending on the calculation method chosen. Local Schools for Local Children likes to say that they are taking care of legacy costs, but they are NOT. They are using an inaccurate definition of legacy costs.
Senate Bill 199 includes the definition of legacy costs used by the proposed Southeast Baton Rouge Community School District. The bill states that the proposed SEBR Community School System will reimburse the EBRPSS "for all postemployment benefits for any employee hired by the SEBR Community School System" (p17).
According to Dr. Roy Heidelberg, who has a Ph.D. in public administration and coauthored the report School District Restructuring and Reform for the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and Baton Rouge Area Chamber, this is not how legacy costs should be defined. Dr. Heidelberg states, "Legacy costs have to do with broad promises made to workers, and if you are not accounting for every worker to which this promise has been made then you are not accounting for legacy costs. Thus, if in attempting to account for legacy costs the bill states that the breakaway will only be responsible for those workers who leave EBRPSS and enter into employment with SE, then they are not accounting for legacy costs at all. They are simply altering the employment agreement with a small sector of workers."
Their plan is to take financial responsibility only for those teachers who could have retired from the EBRPSS but then go to work in their new district. Think about Mr. James and Mrs. Purvis. This narrow definition of legacy costs leaves them out. In particular, think about Mr. James. He actually served his entire career at a school in the breakaway district, but under their plan, they owe him nothing.
The definition of who is included in the legacy costs must include retirees and current employees of the EBRPSS, taking into account the time they have served the district. In addition, the calculation method for legacy costs should be determined BEFORE legislators vote on the bill. We have a moral responsibility to our students, our retirees, and current employees to get this right.
Smaller districts have higher administrative costs.
In arguments for creating the proposed district, we repeatedly hear the refrain, "Smaller is better. It is more efficient." Let's see if the data actually support such a claim.
The proposed district increases the concentration of poverty and decreases diversity in the EBRPSS.
If the proposed Southeast Community School System is created, the concentration of poverty in the EBRPSS will increase because the students in the proposed district are wealthier, on average, than the average student remaining in the EBRPSS. Last year, 82% of the students in the EBRPSS received free and reduced cost lunches. This number will rise to over 90% if the proposed district is created. In addition, the new district will decrease diversity in the EBRPSS. Currently, 81% of the students in the EBRPSS are black. If the new district is created, the district will be 86% black.
Changes in the socioeconomic composition of a district's student body are extremely important. There is a sizeable body of literature in the field of education research demonstrating that a district and its schools' socioeconomic characteristics are linked to their academic success.
Of additional concern is the furthering of economic and racial segregation in the EBRPSS in comparison to the proposed district. If the district is comprised only of current public school students in the EBRPSS, the differences between the two districts are dramatic. The proposed district would be 67% black compared to 86% in the EBRPSS and its free and reduced lunch population would be 67% compared to 90% in the EBRPSS.
However, one of the goals of the proposed Southeast Baton Rouge Community School System is to draw families not participating in the public school system into the new system. Senator Bodi White, the sponsor of the bills creating the district, discussed complaints by constituents who are spending money on private schools in a segment for the Southern Education Desk. In the segment, he indicates that he believes parents will leave private schools and place their children in the new district's public schools (http://www.southerneddesk.org/?p=8131). Since this is the stated goal of the new district, we believe the best way to contrast the proposed district with the East Baton Rouge Parish School System is by using U.S. Census data on what the communities in the two districts will look like if the new district is created.
If the proposed district is successful in drawing students from private schools into the public school system, the new district will look very different that the current composition of public school students living in the proposed district.