The Advocate

With an election just a month away, East Baton Rouge School Superintendent Warren Drake admitted Tuesday that he has fallen short in explaining to the public some parts a 1-cent sales tax voters will be asked to renew on April 28.

“I probably did not do a good enough job explaining what we’re doing,” Drake told a luncheon audience Tuesday at Juban’s Restaurant in Baton Rouge.

Drake spoke minutes after the Baton Rouge Area Chamber announced that it is endorsing only two of the three tax renewal propositions that make up the 1 cent. Voters are being asked to renew all three proposition for 10 years, which would extend them through 2029.

BRAC came out against the smallest proposition, Proposition 2, which pays for helping with student discipline, alternative education and truancy. The business group says the school system has failed to provide enough information to justify renewal.

The business lobbying group, however, is supporting Proposition 1, which would fund at least eight new or rebuilt schools and improvement to other facilities, and Proposition 3, which maintains employee salaries and benefits.

“I don’t think the Chamber had all the information,” Drake said, adding that he plans to send the group more information about why Proposition 2 warrants their support.

The school system plans to use that part of the tax to consolidate six alternative schools into three, Drake said, putting children in better facilities and tearing down the buildings they leave behind. He also noted partnerships with outside organizations to promote greater use of promising strategies such as restorative justice.

Drake was speaking at a regular luncheon talk called “Lunch With The Supe” sponsored by the Foundation for the East Baton Rouge School System, a private foundation affiliated with the school district.

Drake and top staff are visiting groups daily to answer questions and to dispel what they describe as misconceptions, about the 1-cent sales tax.

For instance, Drake said, they visited Monday with supporters of Glen Oaks High and he planed to speak later Tuesday with supporters of McKinley High. Some alumni at both schools were unhappy that their schools will not be completely renovated or rebuilt as Baton Rouge Magnet High was in 2012 and Lee High was in 2016.

Drake showed the audience at Juban’s new artist renderings of how Glen Oaks and McKinley high schools might look once they are renovated. These renderings are also being shown to supporters of those schools.

Glen Oaks is receiving $23 million worth of work over three phases; the first two phases are set to end in August 2019. The third phase is to be completed by 2020, but only if Proposition 1 is renewed. McKinley High is slated to receive $35 million worth of renovations starting in 2024; the work is waiting on the completion of a related $25 million demolition and rebuilding of University Terrace Elementary and related merger with Buchanan Elementary.

BRAC has supported all three propositions in the past, going back to when the 1-cent sales tax was first proposed and approved by parish voters in 1998. The business group again supported all three when they were renewed in 2003 and 2008.

Proposition 1, which accounts for 51 percent of the 1 cent, was debated heavily in recent month. And Proposition 3, which accounts for 41 percent of the 1 cent, is of keen importance to school employees, who could take a big pay cut if voters failed to renew it.

By contrast, Proposition 2, which accounts for 8 percent of the 1 cent, generated very little discussion as the parish School Board shaped its package to bring to voters, what it is calling the “Tax Plan 2018.” The propositions are not tied together, meaning voters can vote against one without necessarily dooming another.

BRAC singled out Proposition 2 for opposition because, they said, plans for using the revenue lacked specifics.

“Public presentations neglected to deliver details of this section of the Plan and emphasized continuing programs already in place,” according to the BRAC announcement. “This continuance of existing programs belies the effectiveness of the existing programs.”

BRAC instead suggests the board go back and review its programs dealing with discipline, truancy and dropout prevention to see that they are “innovative, proven and results-driven.”

“The BRAC Board encourages a No vote on this proposition in hope that it can be returned to the public for a vote after a stronger plan is developed,” according to the announcement.

Drake urged voters to consider supporting all three propositions and to not pick and choose among them.

“These three propositions are all related to having a good educational program in Baton Rouge,” he said. “They are critical to our future.”