EAST BATON ROUGE PARISH, La. (LOCAL 33) (FOX 44) — Thousands of voters southeast of Baton Rouge will soon decide whether to form a new city. For supporters of a new St. George public school district, the Oct. 12 ballot initiative will mark the greatest hurdle yet — but not the final one.
The creation of a new public school system would still require the following steps:
- Legislators would need to call for a statewide election, in order to change the state’s constitution and let St. George access state education funds. Such a referendum would require two-thirds’ support from the House and Senate.
- State lawmakers would also need to endorse a map of the territory served by a St. George school district. This would require a simple majority from the Legislature.
- A majority of statewide and East Baton Rouge Parish voters would need to cast ballots favoring the constitutional amendment.
If St. George organizers clear those hurdles, the earliest they can launch a school district is July 2021.
Educators familiar with budding school systems say the challenges do not stop there. Details of how a new district would look remain unsolved.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity, but a great responsibility,” said Michael Faulk, the founding superintendent for the Central Community School System — which formed in 2007, two years after Central became a city. “If it doesn’t start out right, it takes a lot of work to clean it up.”
Student capacity could pose a challenge for a St. George school district. Parish figures count 5,237 public school students within the proposed city’s limits. The six public schools within St. George’s boundaries have 4,153 students currently enrolled.
“If you form a new school system, you’re going to have an immediate influx and transfer of people,” Faulk said. “You’re going to have to have people sitting down and looking at what you have, planning for the steps that are going to have to take place.”
A new district would also cause thousands of students to switch schools. Nearly 2,000 kids who would live in St. George attend schools or programs outside the proposed city’s boundaries, according to parish school system figures. Another 1,400 students live outside St. George’s limits and may have to get their education elsewhere.
St. George organizers maintain they are open to ideas on easing school transitions. Speaking to BRProud.com Wednesday, a leader in the pro-incorporation group called their working relationship with East Baton Rouge School Superintendent Warren Drake “better than its ever been.”
St. George — with some 86,000 residents within its limits — would become Louisiana’s fifth largest city if voters approve incorporation this fall.