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Baton Rouge Seeks to Avoid State Takeover

While one school district-that-shall-not-be-named in Louisiana (okay, it's New Orleans) tends to draw a lot of attention for its unusual governance structure and school-related drama, its neighbor to the northwest, Baton Rouge, has seen more than its share of education action in recent weeks.

According to The Advocate, the East Baton Rouge Parish school board plans to move 100 gifted and talented students from a higher-performing elementary school to a lower-performing school this fall in order to improve the test scores of the lower-performing school and possibly prevent it from being taken over by the state-run Recovery School District.

The state's superintendent of education, John White, and the superintendent of the East Baton Rouge School Parish, Bernard Taylor, have publicly expressed their disagreement about the plan.

White says the district's ploy to move students aims to "cover up failures" and is both cynical and disappointing.

Taylor is unabashed, saying that a takeover by the state would be detrimental to his district's students. The plan to move students was not surreptitious, he said.

White said that the state board of education will likely take action to make sure that such relocation of students could not happen in the future.

Meanwhile, a parent group in one part of the city is seeking to withdraw their children from the district to create a new system—and, just yesterday, passed the state senate's finance panel and moved to the floor. The bill and a related constitutional amendment would allow for the creation of a new 10-school district in East Baton Rouge Parish—the Southeast Baton Rouge Community School District.

The East Baton Rouge school district plans to fight the change, which it says would hurt the education of the students left behind in the original system, who would be poorer than those in the new district, more likely to be in special education, and 90 percent minority, as Nola.com reports.

The breakaway bill brings to mind the current situation in Shelby County, Tenn., where six suburban cities have successfully sought legislative changes to allow them to avoid merging with the district in Memphis. Three cities within the parish in which Baton Rouge is located already have independent school systems.

The gifted-student maneuvering to avoid a takeover touches on a whole different set of contentious issues. The RSD in New Orleans has been transitioning to a role where it mainly oversees charter schools, but while the charters the RSD has overseen have been gradually improving, some of the schools it directly runs are the worst-performing in the city.

And just what the exit plan for schools that have entered state control is remains unclear. The plan is similarly unclear in the state-run Achievement School District in Tennessee. One can see how a local superintendent might be concerned.

In the Advocate, state commissioner White seems to acknowledge the RSD's spotty track record, but says it doesn't excuse moving around students to avoid the takeover. "We have more than 20 F-rated schools in this parish. Some of them are governed by the state, some by the district," he said. "Moving kids around to cover up failures and bickering about which government agency runs the schools is a losing path that gives kids the short end of the stick."

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