Leader Blues

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

TOP STORY >>PCSSD seeking judicial release

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

He is awaiting feedback from the district’s two new school board members and from the desegregation consultant hired by the state before proceeding with efforts to extricate the district from decades of court desegregation oversight, Pulaski County Special School District Attorney Sam Jones said Tuesday.

At least one of the two new members favors an independent Jacksonville district.

Bishop James E. Bolden III, a vigorous and outspoken advocate for Jacksonville-area schools and for a stand-alone school district, was unseated in the Sept. 18 school board election by Bill Vasquez, who says he also strongly favors a Jacksonville district.

“Our children will be best served and educated when the citizens of Jacksonville have local control over the schools our children attend and not before,” according to Vasquez. I call upon the PCSSD to seek full unitary status immediately and stop playing semantics at our school board meetings.”

Unitary status for PCSSD is a prerequisite for any possible Jacksonville district.

PCSSD, the Little Rock School District and the North Little Rock School District have been conjoined by a 25-year-old desegregation agreement that has cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars—more than $62 million this year alone — and currently impedes a stand-alone Jacksonville school district favored by many residents.

District Judge Bill Wilson has released the Little Rock District from the agreement, ruling it had met the desegregation objectives, and the North Little Rock District filed for unitary status on Friday.

Like the other two districts, PCSSD will have until October 31 to file for unitary or partial unitary status and to file for compensation for attorney costs, according to state Rep. Will Bond, D-Jacksonville, who wrote the enabling legislation.
Unitary status would mean the district could stand on its own as a desegregated entity.

“In my opinion, North Little Rock is fully unitary,” according to Bond, and “I think (PCSSD) is too, particularly in student assignment.”

He said PCSSD secondary schools are 46 percent black and primary schools are 43 percent black.

Jones said PCSSD had directed him early last summer to petition for partial unitary status based upon student assignment.
He said whether or not the district would seek wider unitary status was not yet decided.

Armor, a professor at the George Mason (Virginia) School of Public Policy, has researched and written about desegregating schools and related civil rights issues, according to a George Mason website.

He has consulted on and testified as an expert witness in more than 40 school desegregation and educational adequacy cases.

“If I get wind of an opinion that (Armor) thinks PCSSD is unitary in other areas, such as staffing, I will report to board at the appropriate time in October to see if the newly constituted board wants to expand the petition to include other areas,” Jones said.

Armor will spend time doing research and interviews and look at which elements seem to be in compliance with desegregation plans, according to Julie Thompson, spokesman for the state Education Department. She said his report would be given to the state Legislature, which authorized the hiring of a consultant and as much as $250,000 to reimburse school districts for legal fees in pursing unitary status.