BRAC Board of Directors recommends a vote of “Yes-No-Yes”

Baton Rouge, La. (March 27, 2018) – At its annual Shareholders’ Meeting this afternoon, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber (BRAC) will announce its support for two of three propositions that will be on the April 28, 2018 ballot in East Baton Rouge Parish, each renewing part of a 1-cent sales tax for the East Baton Rouge Parish School System (EBRPSS).

The three propositions support 1) facilities; 2) discipline; and, 3) compensation. Positions from BRAC’s Board of Directors on each proposition are below.

Proposed Ballot Proposition 1: Facilities & Technology

BRAC Recommendation: Yes

The BRAC Board supports Proposition 1 for three key reasons, outlined below.

Additional School Capacity

Population growth in East Baton Rouge (EBR) is greatest in the South and Southeast part of the parish, where school-age population is slated to grow by approximately 1,000 students in the next 10 years. The Tax Plan addresses this population growth, allowing EBRPSS to prepare for it.

The Tax Plan creates a capacity boost to the South/Southeast area by providing schools for an additional 2,500 students. These additional schools will lower the current utilization rate of 88 percent for the area’s schools to 70 percent.

The Tax Plan’s new schools should also be considered in context: the EBR school board has approved two high-quality charter schools (IDEA Public Schools and BASIS Baton Rouge) as well as an already-funded traditional K-8 school to serve the area. These five additional schools will lead to a total utilization rate of just under 50 percent, more than making room for the student population growth projected for the area.

Two items are critical for this boost in capacity to be truly meaningful: 1) the two new schools proposed in the Plan should be replications of proven high-quality models and 2) the location of the two new schools in the Plan should be based on need rather than convenience. The District should be as intentional about designing what happens in these schools as it no doubt will be when designing the school buildings. The schools should have exceptional strength of leadership, teaching staff, and programming, such that they open as A-rated schools and stay that way. That intentionality should extend to the specific location of these new schools to ensure that students who do not currently have access to a public school in or even near their neighborhood are given preference.

Demolitions and Closures

EBRPSS enrollment has dropped by an average of 1 percent every year since 2007. This trend will likely continue, and the District should prudently plan for a future in which it serves a smaller number of students. The planned demolitions, closures, and school consolidations demonstrate good stewardship of public funds and strategic planning for a leaner future. These excess properties should be considered for sale or lease, as allowed by law, to bring them back into the marketplace and potentially fund additional student-centered resources.

Focus on Exceptional Schools

The Tax Plan places importance on high-quality school access. Thirty-five percent of the schools slated for improvement under the Plan have earned either an A or B-rating from the state. While it is unclear whether the additions, renovations, or replacements at many of these exceptional schools will allow for them to enroll more students, the Plan does specify expansions at both Forest Heights Academy of Excellence and Brownfields Elementary. To the extent possible, any construction completed on EBRPSS’ best-performing programs should include an increase in enrollment capacity to provide more students access to such high-quality options.

For these key reasons, the BRAC Board encourages a Yes vote on Proposition 1.

Proposed Ballot Proposition 2: Discipline, Alternative Education, and Truancy

BRAC Recommendation: No

The BRAC Board of Directors believes that this section of the Tax Plan was not given enough scrutiny or attention in its development. Public presentations neglected to deliver details of this section of the Plan and emphasized continuing programs already in place. This continuance of existing programs belies the effectiveness of the existing programs.

EBRPSS’ discipline, truancy, drop out, and graduation rates demonstrate a need for greater scrutiny regarding the prudence and equity of existing practices. Students and families in East Baton Rouge deserve to have these issues addressed robustly, with innovative, proven, and results-driven strategies that result in students re-engaging in the education system and ultimately earning diplomas and credentials.

Disparities among and effectiveness of discipline and alternative education, and the causes of truancy are issues critical to student success. Strategies to address these issues should be analyzed in-depth, with due care and attention. 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.

Proposed Ballot Proposition 3: Compensation

BRAC Recommendation: Yes

Failure of this Proposition will lead to a 10 to 12 percent drop in pay across the board for EBRPSS employees.

Currently, EBRPSS provides salaries competitive with public school districts across the Capital Region. The salary reduction that would result from a failure of Proposition 3 would not only be an unfair penalty on hard-working teachers, administrators, and others, but also would dramatically reduce EBRPSS’ ability to recruit and retain top talent.

The way to improve any organization, whether a school system, a non-profit, or a business, is to employ exceptional people. EBRPSS will not be able to make the kind of academic progress our citizens desire or our students deserve without being able to compete for great teachers. For that reason, the BRAC Board urges a Yes vote on this proposition.

About the Baton Rouge Area Chamber

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber (BRAC) leads economic development in the nine-parish Baton Rouge Area, working to grow jobs and wealth and to improve the business climate and competitiveness in the region. Today, BRAC investors include more than 1,500 small businesses, mid-sized firms, large industry and entrepreneurial startups, as well as individuals and organizations that support business and economic development. In this capacity, BRAC serves as the voice of the business community, providing knowledge, access, services and advocacy. More information is available at brac.org.

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