Showing posts with label Lee High. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lee High. Show all posts

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What is wrong with this picture?

In the bad old days, some Southern public schools got closed down because staying open would mean being integrated.

And "separate but equal" held a lot more sway over Rebel hearts and minds than educating all God's children. Especially if God's children were black. In Prince Edward County, Va., the public schools stayed closed from 1959 to 1964.

THANKFULLY, those days have faded into history. Unless you count many cities' mostly-white private schools counterpoised with failing, dilapidated mostly-black public schools.

There are other modern reminders of "the bad ol' days," as well. Some more fraught with irony than others.

For example, in my hometown, there's the sad case of Robert E. Lee High School. It used to be the home of the Rebels. Now, with a majority-minority student body, it's the home of the Patriots.

And this band of Patriots has no George Washington to shepherd it out of harm's way so it might fight another day.

FOR THAT MATTER, they'd just as well go back to being the Rebels, because Lee High has met its Appomattox.

In this day and age of crumbling urban schools -- particularly in places, like Baton Rouge, with little history of supporting quality education for all -- you could find a hundred legitimate reasons for pulling the plug on a school like Lee High. You have your plummeting enrollment. And crumbling facilities. And too many high schools in town for too few remaining students.

I imagine all of these are factors in Lee High's pending demise, expected to be formalized tonight by the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board. But not the main one, says The Advocate:

Supporters of the high school, located at 1105 Lee Drive, successfully fought to keep it open in spring 2008 — and to have it rebuilt in the future on the same location for $63 million — but the school’s continued inability to meet state minimum academic standards may have sealed its fate.


[Schools Superintendent Charlotte]
Placide visited Lee High’s faculty and staff Wednesday afternoon to let them know of her decision, made Tuesday after discussing it with her education leadership team.

“The staff was very somber,” she said. “Nobody wants it to happen.”

Placide first proposed closing Lee High at a May 4 special board meeting. The two options were to close the school right away or to close it over the course of the next year, so the class of 2010 could graduate at the school.

Lee High is potentially up for state takeover as early as August, and board members worried that if the school were still operating in any form, the state would move to take it over.

Closing the school immediately could mean that today — also the last day of the 2008-09 school year — is the school’s last day in operation.

AND THAT'S the way it is, May 21, 2009. An African-American school superintendent, along with an integrated school board, seeks to shutter a failing school rather than let the state take control of it.

Stupidity always has been an equal-opportunity enterprise. Irony, too.

UPDATE: They did it. Here's some of WAFB television's story:

They fought about it all night, in fact students, parents and school board members have been at odds over the future of Lee High for more than a year now. But Thursday night was decision time. Robert E. Lee High has officially been closed.

"It is a tremendously tough thing to do. But it is the right thing to do," said East Baton Rouge School Board member Noel Hammitt.

He called the decision to close Robert E. Lee High painful. An alumnus himself, Hammitt made it clear that Lee High's closure does not mean the school has failed. He says the move to close these doors would prevent yet another take over.

"To keep the school open would mean that the state of Louisiana could take over another school," said Hammitt.
THE MIND BOGGLES. The board shuttered a school -- expressly shuttered a school -- so the state couldn't get a shot at straightening out what the local yahoos screwed up.

Something is seriously, seriously wrong in a place where such things happen. But in my hometown, it's not exactly without precedent. Thursday's s*** fit is just another twist on the old Louisiana game of cutting off one's own nose to spite somebody else's face, and it's been going on within public education ever since Brown v. Board of Education.

Would that this new version of a venerable -- and insane -- phenomenon could be pinned on something as easily confronted as "segregation today . . . segregation tomorrow . . . segregation forever."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

And he could there do no mighty work. . . .

Is Louisiana fixed yet?

After all, it
has been the better part of a week since the Messiah took office. Robert Kennon Buddy Roemer Bobby Jindal, by his mere presence and tough talk on ethics, was to instantaneously transform a state that's been mired in varying degrees of dysfunction since the dawn of the 18th century.

SO, WE FIND that, thus far, the status quo is hanging tough in the Gret Stet. The business community and LSU are fighting over the resignation of Chancellor Sean O'Keefe, forced out amid political machinations by the school's new president and its board of supervisors.

Also in Baton Rouge, existing downtown casinos, through front organizations, are airing anti-casino TV ads to keep a competitor from opening and sucking gamblers to a new "resort" in the southern part of town, where -- on a different matter -- some residents are fighting tooth-and-nail to stop the kind of mixed-use, commercial/residential development that most American cities lust after.

Meanwhile, murder rates are soaring in both New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and the mayor of the Crescent City is still a preening doofus.

And my alma mater, Baton Rouge Magnet High School, is still a dump. Despite having one of its own in the governor's mansion.

Any moment now, I expect that disillusioned Louisianians will begin denouncing Jindal, asking what use have they for a messiah who can't turn water into wine, much less a Third World entity into something resembling a functioning civic society. And do it instantly.

Remember, you read here first that -- even under the most miraculous permutations of great good fortune -- the best Bobby Jindal can do is futz around the edges of Louisiana's pathology, perhaps fixing a doodad here and a thingamabob there. Maybe a couple of thingamabobs, which probably would earn him a vice-presidential slot on the 2012 GOP presidential ticket.

That's about it, though . . . fixing some doomaflatchies and whatsits. Because Jindal can't legally do anything about the real problem with Louisiana -- the people who live there.

It takes people to make a culture, and it takes people to generally care so that government might generally work. Your score in the Louisiana Bowl, after 300 years of play, is Violent Dumbasses 76, Prosperous Functioning Society 14.

The coach, alas, is only as good as his players.

LET'S LOOK, in a metaphorical vein, at the governor's old school and mine -- Baton Rouge Magnet High.

Over the past generation or so, it has been allowed to fall into an extreme state of disrepair. Quite literally, it has been falling apart around students, teachers and administrators . . . which is not exactly the way a state tells its best and brightest young people "I love you. Please stay."

Football programs quickly learn they can't recruit good players when Whatsamatta U's athletic facilities are falling apart. Louisianians never learn, however, and demographic data has shown for some time that the state pays the price.

When I was a child, Baton Rouge's public schools were pretty dumpy, and the school system pretty much sucked. Except for one school -- Baton Rouge Magnet High.

Now, as reported by the Baton Rouge Business Report (and everyone else), the school system still pretty much sucks and the facilities have nosedived well into "Good God ALMIGHTY!" territory:

About a year ago, workers employed by the East Baton Rouge Parish School System were looking to perform some fairly routine repairs to Baton Rouge Magnet High School. But the more they looked, the more problems they found. For starters, the brick and mortar of the venerable main building were no longer even connected to the exterior walls.

The findings were no surprise to Dot Dickinson, who watched a tile fall from the ceiling before a performance of the school’s orchestra, which included her son, in the mid-1990s. Luckily, the wayward tile landed on empty seats.

“Seems someone would have noticed the need for maintenance at that time,” she says.

Most likely someone did. But at the time, every public school in the parish needed work, and there was virtually no money to pay for it, school officials say. The system isn’t in the crisis mode it was in 10 years ago, but there are still a number of school buildings that are drafty, leaky, moldy or otherwise disheveled.

The School Board was scheduled to discuss—and most likely finalize and vote on—the system’s facility plan on Jan. 10. The futures of Baton Rouge Magnet High, which is in line for a $62 million renovation, and Lee High School, which the system had considered closing before Superintendent Charlotte Placide proposed building a new Lee High on the same site, have elicited the strongest emotions.


Revenues over the next 10 years, including a $20 million surplus, are expected to be more than $489 million, assuming the renewal of a one cent sales tax. That covers what the system believes are the most pressing needs.

But making all the needed repairs could cost about $800 million if everything is fixed by 2011, system spokesman Chris Trahan says. Meanwhile, the parish’s older schools will continue to deteriorate. Placide says the system needs more money to catch up, but will parish voters pony up, especially since so many abandoned the public school system years ago?

For more than three decades, the system didn’t build a single new school. From 1964-98, parish voters approved enough tax renewals to keep the system operating, but not nearly enough to make any significant capital improvements, Trahan says. There were no bond issues, and no dedicated stream of revenue for infrastructure. The system didn’t even have a building maintenance fund like most districts.

Placide says there are “various reasons” why voters wouldn’t approve significant fees for capital improvement, which she didn’t attempt to list, but allowed that the problem was “related to the desegregation issues the community struggled with for some time.” The parish settled its 47-year-old desegregation case with the federal government in 2003.

IN OTHER WORDS, since 1981 -- the beginning of "forced busing" as a desegregation tool in Baton Rouge -- white residents steadily and relentlessly removed their children and their financial support from the public schools. The numbers don't lie.

Sheer racism may or may not have played a major role in the ethnic and financial "cleansing" of the local schools. For the first wave fleeing the East Baton Rouge public schools for brand-new private schools (and to neighboring parishes), race played a big role. Or at least I suspect it did.

For later waves of refugees, that abandonment probably was due to being sick and tired. Sick of fighting against growing urban decay and the resulting educational dysfunction, and bone tired from the fight.

Nevertheless, the result was the New Orleanization of the capital city's public schools, and civic support for public education cratered. Again, from the Business Report article:

In 1997, the system put together a comprehensive facilities plan that identified millions in needed work. Perhaps hoping to take advantage of goodwill engendered by the end of forced crosstown busing the previous year, school officials put together an ambitious proposal, asking voters to approve a 25-year, $475 million bond issue and a 35-year 1% sales tax for constructing and maintaining new school buildings. Both propositions were soundly defeated at the polls.

Thus chastened, school officials came back the next year with a proposition that had been drastically scaled back: a penny sales tax, levied over five years, about half of which was earmarked for a pay-as-you-go repair and construction fund. The tax passed and was renewed for another five years in 2003, and the system built seven new schools with that money.


“The school system is one of the greatest detriments to economic growth that we have here,” says Fred Dent, chairman of a Baton Rouge financial consulting firm and spokesman and founding member of TaxBusters, which works for lower taxes and streamlined government. “When we keep getting headlines about the lack of performance of schools, it does not engender a lot of trust for any school board that has that problem. … It’s not about the money, it’s about performance.”


Thirty percent of children in East Baton Rouge Parish do not attend public schools, nearly double the state average of 16%, which the Louisiana Department of Education says is the highest rate in the nation. The private schools can pick and choose whom they want to let in, while public schools take all comers. Public schools tend to have nearly all of the special education and special-needs students, while private schools grab many of the high-achievers.

For middle- and upper-class children, private schools are the rule, not the exception. Nearly 77% of the students left in East Baton Rouge public schools are poor, as measured by how many qualify for free or reduced lunch. Often, poor children come from unstable homes or dangerous neighborhoods, and they bring those problems with them to school. Parental involvement in a child’s education, a key factor in academic success, is often lacking in poorer homes.

EVERY STATISTIC in this story is staggering. And very few of them can be ameliorated by even as great and talented a political messiah as Bobby Jindal.

In Baton Rouge -- and in New Orleans . . . and all across the Gret Stet -- the problem with public education lies in the people. The people have the freedom to elect good stewards of the public trust . . . or lousy ones.

The people can commit themselves to strong public education for the good of society . . . or not. They can give public education -- and desegregation -- a chance . . . or not. They can vote for taxation sufficient to support good public schools and then hold officials accountable . . . or not.

The people of Baton Rouge, and Louisiana, can be OK with the sorry state of one of the state's best schools . . . or not.

So far, the people's job performance hasn't been exactly inspiring.

And the Business Report article makes it sound like passing the tax renewal won't exactly be a slam-dunk. Even in the face of damning evidence that Baton Rougeans have fallen down on their job -- the job of creating a functioning civic society that offers all its citizens equal access to the necessities of modern life.

Like a decent education.

IN STATES not Louisiana, public education has a history dating to 1635, with the establishment of the Boston Latin School. Universal education as a function of the state had one of its early champions in Thomas Jefferson, and the idea took off in the mid-19th century.

As it has been understood in the United States, free public education is a basic service civic society -- through local government -- provides to all its citizens without regard to status, creed, nationality or race. As it has played out in Baton Rouge, among other unfortunate examples, free public education is what you get when you are unable or unwilling to pay for private or parochial school.

And like the segregated education African-American children routinely received in the South of my childhood, public education in my hometown once again is separate and unequal. Some 83 percent of those children on the public side of Baton Rouge's resegregated educational realm -- many of whom are doomed to attend classes in substandard, crumbling facilities -- just happen to be black.

Separate. Unequal. Still.

Faced with the picture of children -- if not theirs, somebody's -- trying to learn in squalid classrooms such as those at my alma mater, Baton Rouge High, "activists" like Fred Dent balk at setting tax rates adequate to erase the shame of a city.

"It’s not about the money, it’s about performance.” That's what the man says.

Really? Couldn't it be just a little bit about, "I got mine. Screw the ghetto dwellers"?

Or does Dent really think the rational response to a crumbling, failing school system is to cut off the money and kill the sucker dead? And he and his ilk are working to replace the unacceptable entity with . . . what, exactly?

MEANWHILE, it'll probably take a brutal fight to pass enough of a tax renewal to assure repairs to Baton Rouge High, Lee High and all the other dung heaps where Baton Rougeans are content to warehouse their children. If it even passes at all -- despite all the shocking pictures, despite all the gallons of ink used to print the story of a city's shame.

"America's Next Great City," as its mayor laughably calls it.

Louisianians wait with bated breath for one of their occasional political messiahs to pull off a miracle well beyond the pale of mortal man. And soon enough, they'll crucify him because cheap grace was something that would not materialize out of his insufficient incantations.

A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. And he could there do no mighty work. . . . And he marvelled because of their unbelief.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Friends don't let friends elect dopes

In my hometown, there's a school system that let one high school get so run down over the past couple of decades that it -- quite literally -- is falling down around the students within. That these students are among the best in the state only makes an embarrassing situation even more so.

A COUPLE OF MILES AWAY, this school system has let another high school become such a run-down dump that it had been scheduled for demolition and reconstruction. But now, in order to save the first school, the second school just might have to be put out of its misery altogether.

Did I mention that School No. 2 serves a predominantly underprivileged student body? And already has had its music and drama programs gutted?

What a mess. Which makes it just another day in the slow death of public education in Baton Rouge, La.

There are 300,000 stories in the Stupid City. Unfortunately, The Advocate's Koran Addo has
yet another one of them:
One school’s potential closing begets another school’s reawakening, some students protesting outside of Lee High School indicated Thursday.

Wearing red “Save Our Schools” T-shirts, dozens of Lee High students and faculty assembled outside the school, rallying against a school district panel’s proposal to renovate Baton Rouge Magnet High School and temporarily house its 1,250 students at Lee High. Under that proposal, the Lee High student body would be absorbed into other schools — a proposition that had Lee High student protesters saying they feel like renters facing eviction.

Wayne Alexander, 17, a Lee High senior, described his years at the school as “sensational.” He said Lee High’s distinctiveness — including students from 37 countries — could not be duplicated should the proposal take effect.

“You won’t find another school with this kind of diversity or with the programs we have,” he said. “I’m not knocking any other school, but why close Lee? It’s like taking us from our home.”

One of the rally’s organizers, Lee High social studies teacher Brandon Levatino, said rumors and misinformation about the school’s possible closure fueled anxiety from students who decided they wanted to demonstrate.

“A month ago, we were told Lee was going to be rebuilt; two weeks ago, we heard we were being closed,” Levatino said.

“Now we’re working on a deadline, trying to have our voices heard before the School Board has a final vote.”

The proposal was discussed Nov. 29 at an East Baton Rouge Parish School Board presentation on possible school construction. If approved by voters, construction would be funded by a renewal of a 1-cent sales tax plan. The School Board is expected to finalize construction plans by Jan. 4 — the last date to safely get the proposal on the March 8 ballot.

Lee High alumna Tiffany Theriot, who has two children enrolled at the school, said she attended Thursday’s rally to represent the parents who would have liked to have been there but had to work instead.

Theriot said the proposal pits children from low-income families against more-affluent children. As evidence the school system plays favorites, Theriot cited Lee High’s loss of band, choir and drama programs in recent years while similar programs flourish at other schools.

“The School Board looks at test scores and they look at parents’ incomes and they think we’re disposable,” she said. “As parents, we’re like silent partners: They want us to be seen and not heard.”

WELL, MS. THERIOT can take small consolation that her kids aren't much more disposable than the "smart kids" at my alma mater, Baton Rouge High. The school board is nothing if not an aggregation of equal-opportunity screw-ups.

Then again, that's how what passes for public policy gets accomplished in my home state. Neglect, dismiss, ignore . . . then panic and create unnecessary conflict when ignoring no longer works.

And no one has quite figured out, anyway, how BRMHS' 1,300 students are going to fit in 800-capacity Lee High. That, however, is the best option all the board's horses and all the board's men can come up with for putting Baton Rouge High back together again.

UNTIL THE PROPOSAL to screw over Patriots to save Bulldogs, however, the best plan Superintendent Charlotte Placide could come up with was a lame impression of a bad door-to-door encyclopedia salesman:
"You wouldn't want to donate a building for a temporary school, would you? I didn't think so."

Or, as an earlier Advocate story put it:

Placide said her biggest problem remains unsolved: Finding an alternative place for more than 1,200 students to go to school for two or more years while the high school is being renovated. Placide put out a call in July for help finding such a place.

“We need you to help us find a location that is not cost prohibitive,” Placide said.

WHOA! Now that's inspiring. I can't understand why people aren't rushing to help.

Actually, what I can't understand is why the school board and the city-parish aren't working in tandem on this issue. Why Placide and Mayor-President Kip Holden aren't taking the initiative and not only finding temporary quarters, but talking area businesses and civic leaders into helping pay for it -- for the greater good of Baton Rouge.

Oh, sorry. That's what would happen here in Omaha, where there actually is a functioning civic culture and some concept of "the common good," as opposed to my hometown's perpetually fragmented, disorganized, disgruntled and warring neighborhoods, interest groups and racial mau-mauers of all hues.

Here's a news flash, Smiley: If your state sucks, there's generally a good reason -- or good reasons -- why.