A measure that would shrink the East Baton Rouge Parish school board from 11 to 7 members cleared its first legislative hurdle Wednesday.
The proposal won approval 6-2 in the state House and Governmental Affairs Committee. It next faces action in the full Louisiana House.
State Rep. Dalton Honoré, D-Baton Rouge, sponsor of the bill, said the district used to have about 80,000 students and 12 school board members and now has 11 panel members for about 42,000 students.
“A smaller school board would be a more efficient school board,” Honoré told the committee. The proposal is House Bill 1178.
Adam Knapp, chief executive officer of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, urged the panel to approve the legislation. Knapp said a smaller school board would help re-engage residents in the local school system and spark “better, faster decisions.
“We think that will lead to better outcomes,” Knapp added.
State Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, testified against the bill.
Barrow said Honoré’s proposal would disenfranchise voters and would be unconstitutional.
She said she was also caught off guard that the bill was even filed shortly before the session began on March 10.
“The people that I represent are not in favor of this bill,” Barrow said.
Barrow also said the Zachary school district has a nine-member board with about 5,400 residents and the Central school system has a seven-member board with about 4,500 residents.
The East Baton Rouge Parish school district board represents about 372,000 residents, officials said.
Honoré’s bill would set up six single-member districts and one at large.
He said it could take effect in time for this year’s school board elections if the Legislature acts quickly enough.
It is separate from another bill that targets the district sets for a hearing on Wednesday night in the House Education Committee.
That plan is House Bill 1177 and is aimed at improving the school system by giving principals sweeping new authority.
A similar proposal won approval last week in the Senate Education Committee.
Honoré told the committee he was not surprised by the opposition to his board measure.
“Nobody wants change,” Honoré said. “The people who elected me did not elect me to come here and get in step with everybody else.”
Mike McClanahan, president of the Baton Rouge branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, opposed the bill.
“He asked no one,” McClanahan said of Honore.
Belinda Davis, president of One Community One School District, also criticized the legislation.
Davis said the revamped school board districts would be larger than the legislative districts of state House members.
Honore offered a different view.
“Everybody knows that with a smaller group there is a lot more cooperation,” he said.
Honore also said he thinks the smaller board would save about $100,000 per year that could be used for district operations.
Voting YES on House Bill 1178 were state Reps. Taylor Barras, D-New Iberia, Johnny Berthelot, R-Gonzales, Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur, Steve Pugh, R-Ponchatoula, John Schroder, R-Covington and Tim Burns, R-Mandeville.
Voting NO were state Reps. Jared Brossett, D-New Orleans and Greg Miller, R-Destrehan.