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Will new Central touch off incorporation/secession fever?

It’s not an easy process, but if there’s a lot of will you can make a new local government in Louisiana. Just such has happened over the span of the last couple of months, culminating in Saturday’s election to create the new city of Central in East Baton Rouge Parish.

It may not yet be over because opponents, who already have tried to block the election, have 30 days to contest it. But give the five-to-three ratio for approval, any successful challenge seems unlikely. Even though opponents argued a good reason to vote against the incorporation was the new city government wouldn’t have enough resources to maintain the city in the manner in which its residents had come to expect, the real reason may be the parish government would take nearly a million dollar a year hit on its bottom line.

Proponents argued that the area, north of central city Baton Rouge and mainly residential and rural, had little in common with city itself. More specifically, some see it as a first step to creating a separate school district from East Baton Rouge, following the lead of the other two cities in the parish outside of Baton Rouge, Baker and Zachary.

Such concern is warranted. By way of example, the new city has a high school in its boundaries, Central, and even with its results on the Graduate Exit Exam lumped in with the rest of the school district’s East Baton Rouge high schoolers scored miserably on the exam, with an average of 42 percent across the four areas (English, math, science, social studies) at the “approaching basic” and “unsatisfactory” levels. By contrast, Central was rated the second-best high school in the district and its average in these categories was 22 percent.

This certainly is one legitimate response to declining school and city performance. It’s perhaps a strategy distraught parents might try in Orleans Parish, or other places. If this move does spark a kind of “incorporation/secession fever,” look for much hand-wringing from politicians in the affected areas, heaping blame on those citizens for wanting to “exclude” themselves, when in reality these people merely would be doing what they feel necessary to make up for shoddy local government performance of whatever kind.

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