Leader Blues

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

TOP STORY >> A lengthy hearing on PCSSD expected

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staffwriter

Representatives of the Pulaski County Special School District expect another lengthy hearing to begin on Feb. 22 as part of its petition for unitary status.

The hearing may last longer than a week, be rigorously opposed by the Joshua Intervenors and probably by the Knight Intervenors as well, PCSSD attorney Sam Jones said.

The Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County Special school districts have been interlocked in an expensive, extensive desegregation agreement for about three decades.

U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson ruled earlier that Little Rock is in substantial compliance with requirements to achieve desegregation, and over a challenge by the Joshua Intervenors, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling.

Wilson then recused himself from the desegregation case, which landed on District Judge Brian Miller’s docket.

After some delays, Miller set Jan. 25 as a hearing date on North Little Rock School District’s motion for unitary status.

That hearing, which started on time, is expected to wrap up this week, Jones said.

The Joshua Intervenors, the parents of a group of black students, are represented by their original attorney, John Walker, and by Robert Pressman and Austin Porter Jr. in their objection to a declaration of unitary status, Jones said.

It will be easier for Jacksonville to detach from PCSSD and form its own district if the desegregation settlements and court oversight are ended.

Walker has said a separate Jacksonville district hurts desegregation and that he’s opposed to it.

The Knight Intervenors are schoolteachers. They made no court filings in the North Little Rock hearing but “they did file a lot of stuff in opposition to ours,” Jones said. “One could infer that they might appear and be active in our case.”

The Joshua attorneys have pressed extensive cross examination of North Little Rock witnesses and still had witnesses to call at the beginning of this week, said Jones, who has sat through much of the proceedings.

‘The judge keeps his cards very close to his vest,” he said. “He’s intensely interested in achievement issues. Beyond that, nothing else is very clear. He’s granting both sides great latitude.”

Jones said the Pulaski County Special School District case is substantially different than the North Little Rock plan. The PCSSD plan is based on Plan 2000 and it enumerates 11 areas, he said. I will make initial presentations on each topic,” Jones said, “pretty spare.”

“But I can’t predict how much cross-examination there will be. While I hope our case is not nearly as long as North Little Rocks has proven to be, its probably going to take longer than a week.”

Jones said it would be his job to prove that PCSSD substantially satisfied the requirements of Plan 2000.