Last fall, Lanus ran for school board and won. His campaign was criticized for receiving outside funding, but his central message resonated with voters: The schools in Baton Rouge had been inequitable for too long, and it was time for a change. “If you look anywhere south of Florida Boulevard in Baton Rouge—which is what we call the Mason-Dixon line—that’s where you have the largest disparity in the entire city,” Lanus told me. “Anybody that lives in North Baton Rouge is more of your lower-income, disadvantaged communities, and anything south of Florida Boulevard are your more affluent communities.”
Lanus, alongside other residents who oppose the creation of St. George, is concerned that their breaking away from the parish would simply deepen the inequality in the schools in East Baton Rouge. “We’ve already seen several school breakaways, and we’ve seen how drastically it has affected our school system,” he said. “What happened in Zachary and Central,” two other communities that split from East Baton Rouge, “was because of white flight,” he told me, and “for a city the size of Baton Rouge, it has been devastating.”
St. George organizers, however, see the separation as necessary for their children. “We’ve had enough of failing our children,” Rainey said in 2014. “We’re not going to do it anymore, and we’ll go to the length of creating our own city—to create our own education system—to take control back from the status quo.” In Louisiana, a group hoping to incorporate a city is required to wait two years and one day after an unsuccessful attempt before it can launch another petition drive. So in 2018, activists once again sought to create a new city.
In between the failed 2015 attempt and the new one, they tried to iron out a new strategy. They cut down the geographic area of their proposed City of St. George. The original map was roughly 85 square miles; the new area was 60. It would be easier to gain the signatures necessary for a new community with a smaller area. As soon as the proposed map was released, several people in favor of keeping East Baton Rouge Parish together noted that the new map, coincidentally, carved out several apartment complexes—places where black and low-income families lived.