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St. George incorporation has parents asking ‘Now what’ when it comes to education

ST. GEORGE– Friday, the Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision sent shockwaves throughout the Baton Rouge area.

The court’s ruling to incorporate the city of St. George and the uncertainty that comes with it has left the community on both sides of the issue.

City of St. George organizers held a press conference Monday to discuss the 13-year journey to the Supreme Court decision and look ahead to what’s next.

“We’ve celebrated,” St. George spokesperson Andrew Murrell said at the news conference. “Today is the end of that celebration. We’re ready to work.”

Gov. Jeff Landry will appoint a mayor and city council for St. George, although organizers don’t have a timeline on when it will happen. Despite not having official leadership, the city’s Transition District committee created a 150-page plan for the new government. Organizers say the plan will not be available until the transition team and the new city government approve it.

UWK has reached out to Governor Landry’s office asking if there’s any response to when the governor will appoint a mayor and council, but no details have been provided.

One concern residents raised Monday was where their children would attend school. Organizers say creating a school district is a priority, but it will take some time.

Murrell said an independent school district is on their radar but it will be years before it’s ready. Norman Browning, the man behind the St. George incorporation, said they have created a city, not a school system but that was next.

Numerous parents are concerned if the incorporation means their children will be pulled out of Baton Rouge schools to attend schools in St. George. However, officials say those conversations are premature at this time.

“The school system has always been a separate process. So come Fall 2024, your kids will continue going to the same schools they’re attending right now,” said Murrell.

Parents asked at Monday’s meeting if they would be able to choose whether to attend schools in St. George when their school system is incorporated or continue at the school they’re enrolled at in Baton Rouge.

“It’s premature at this time to discuss the school system at all and how exactly it will work because we are focused on the creation of a city at this time,” added Murrell.

The Baton Rouge Chapter of the NAACP issued a statement Monday addressing the ruling. Representatives write that incorporating the new city “poses significant risks to our education system, threatens the continuity of critical programs and challenges community representation.”

The statement focuses on the uncertainty surrounding school funding in Baton Rouge following the ruling.

The NAACP wrote, “We urge the court to ensure that current funding levels are maintained, if not increased, to support our schools during this transition period.”

The statement mentions Rep. Emily Chenevert’s HB 6, which would change how new school districts are created. Chenevert’s constitutional amendment would grant any legislatively created public school system the same treatment and authority given to parishes for purposes of minimum foundation program funding and local taxing authority. If HB 6 goes into effect, voters would no longer have a say in the formation of new school districts, paving the way for a St. George school district without input from East Baton Rouge Parish residents.

“(HB6) creates additional issues,” NAACP representatives write. “Key concerns include the displacement of nearly 7,000 children and the unclear fate of those in specialized programs such as Magnet, Gifted and Talented, Focus Choice and C-Tech.”

City funding and services provided were also concerns that were raised on Monday.

A two-cent sales tax will generate general fund revenue of $48.3 million for the new city. This number, added to property taxes paid by St. George residents, is the budget available to the city for the services it wants to provide.

St. George Transition District Vice Chairman Chris Rials said St. George residents paid $106 million in property taxes in 2002.

St. George Fire Department will provide fire protection, which is already funded by 14 mills residents pay in property taxes, and by the East Side Fire Department, which collects 22.5 mills from its citizens. The East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office will provide law enforcement. Existing property taxes fund the EBRSO services. A parish-wide half-cent sales tax already funds sewer, streets and garbage pick-up. St. George will maintain some roads, bridges, medians, ditches, canals, and other public grounds and facilities, according to Murrell.

The St. George Transition District meets on the second Monday of each month at 4:30 p.m. at the St. George Fire Department headquarters, 14100 Airline Highway.

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