East Baton Rouge Superintendent Battles Education Reforms

Published March 16, 2015

Bernard Taylor, outgoing public school superintendent for the East Baton Rouge Parish School System, unveiled a plan late February to create several clusters of schools to compete with area charter schools. Taylor has grown increasingly critical of charter schools and said he wants to create an alternative to the 23 charter schools in his parish.  

Taylor plans to launch new coursework at 17 schools in the East Baton Rouge district. Two of the courses are Lego art and digital puppetry, according to The Advocate, a Louisiana online newspaper. Taylor also proposed plans to create “families of schools,” which would entail grouping three sets of four schools in the district into clusters. Families living within one of the clusters would have the option of attending any of the schools in a grouping. He first proposed three families of schools clusters in 2012, but only one came to fruition.

“I really don’t know how much merit there is to Superintendent Taylor’s concept of grouping schools together,” said Kevin P. Kane, president of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, a free-market think tank located in New Orleans. “It may be a good idea but I suspect he is a little late to the party. A growing number of people in Baton Rouge are way ahead of the Superintendent and that is why we are seeing an expanding range of educational options. I wish him success in his efforts to improve schools but the real action is taking place outside of the traditional education bureaucracy.”

Taylor’s Turbulent Tenure

Taylor’s tenure has been turbulent since it began in 2012. In an August 2013 Times-Picayune article, board member Jerry Arbour described the board’s “unhealthy” relationship with Taylor and said Taylor instructed district administrative staff not to speak to board members.

The 11-member EBRPSS School Board voted not to renew his contract in June 2014 when it expires this year. After granting Taylor a 2.27 performance rating out of a possible 4.0, only one board member voted in favor of renewing Taylor’s contract.

Need for Educational Options

“We find many students with a high level of academic ability who want more challenge than what they are receiving at their local traditional school,” said Southwest Louisiana Charter Foundation President John Pierre. “Many students arrive well below grade level and it takes about three years to bring them up to where they need to be. Having a public charter school option gives them an opportunity that they’ve never had before.”

Chris Meyer, chief executive officer for New Schools for Baton Rouge, a community partnership dedicated to increasing access, promoting choice and ensuring excellence in school quality – says he and his organization support any education option if it works for students, regardless whether it’s Taylor’s families of schools and charters or online and homeschooling. 

“New Schools for Baton Rouge was founded on the idea of recruiting proven school operators to increase choices for families seeking an excellent education for their children,” Meyer said. “As Baton Rouge faces an urgent need for high-quality school options, we believe that school choice should be rooted in quality, not type of school.”

“Too often, we see system leaders only promoting choice when they control all the options,” said Meyer. “We will continue to recruit and help launch as many proven school options for every kid in Louisiana’s capital city. We would hope all education leaders would strive for this course instead of fearing competition that leads to better quality and more choice.”

Bruce Edward Walker ([email protected]) is an information technology and telecommunications policy advisor for The Heartland Institute.

Image by Bart Everson.

Learn More:

Kevin Boyd, “How Bernard Taylor is Proving That School Choice Works in Baton Rouge,” The Hayride, February 25, 2015: http://thehayride.com/2015/02/how-bernard-taylor-is-proving-that-school-choice-works-in-baton-rouge/#comments 

Charles Lussier, “EBR Superintendent Proposes New School Options to Compete with Charter Schools,” Charles Lussier, The Advocate, Feb. 20, 2015: http://theadvocate.com/news/11627872-123/ebr-superintendent-proposes-new-school

Diana Samuels, “East Baton Rouge school district to issue request to outside groups for new school models,” The Times-Picayune, March 4, 2014: http://www.nola.com/education/baton-rouge/index.ssf/2014/03/east_baton_rouge_school_distri.html

Trey Schmaltz, “Board decides not to keep Taylor as superintendent,” www.wbrz.com, June 19, 2014: http://www.wbrz.com/news/board-decides-not-to-keep-taylor-as-superintendent/

“Baton Rouge Schools Could Rescind Job Offers, Hire More Teachers as a Result of Late Budget Changes,” The Times-Picayune, Aug. 2, 2013: http://www.nola.com/education/baton-rouge/index.ssf/2013/08/baton_rouge_schools_budget.html