Momentous School Board election as new attendance zones required next year

As Ascension Parish School Board elections go, the one scheduled for November 8 is as momentous as any.  That is because of the new high school under construction in Prairieville, on Hwy 929 and Parker Road.  Anticipated to open in the fall of 2024, the 320,000 square-foot campus will include classrooms for 2,000 students…and it will necessitate newly-drawn attendance boundaries to be decided by the School Board.

School safety measures required by a reactive Louisiana legislature, spurred by COVID-19 chaos and/or horrific school shootings, there are other topics which will demand the new board’s attention after the 2023 inauguration.  But they pale in comparison to the duty at hand, redrawing those attendance boundaries which define the feeder systems to four east bank Ascension public high schools.

The last time it happened was necessitated by the addition of Dutchtown High.  That effort placed every Title I elementary and middle school, those in which at least 35% of the student population is eligible for free or reduced lunch, into the feeder system of East Ascension HS.  A federal lawsuit seeking to undo the attendance boundaries was unsuccessful, leaving many in the Gonzales area unhappy (to put it mildly) nearly two decades later.

Among the most compelling evidence presented by the plaintiffs was Duplessis Elementary School’s inclusion in the EAHS system.  Located on Hwy 621, significantly nearer to Dutchtown HS than EAHS, the lone Title I school in the vicinity was added to the EA attendance zone.

Duplessis Elementary is highlighted in gray above.

Still vocal critics of the effort, including elected officials in the City of Gonzales, point to Pelican Point subdivision’s inclusion in the St. Amant High School attendance zone along with nearby  areas which are comparatively affluent.  Those students have to traverse and/or circumnavigate Gonzales (where EAHS is located) to arrive at the SAHS campus.

With School Board election qualifying set for July 20-22, attendance zones will be the big issue confronting candidates.

A single incumbent, Patricia Russo, has chosen not to seek reelection.  Russo, on the Board since 1999, is the only member who got to cast a vote for the current attendance boundaries.