Leader Blues

Friday, March 05, 2010

TOP STORY >> District’s attorney believes goals met

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Pulaski County Special School District could wrap up its case seeking unitary status and release from federal court oversight by Tuesday afternoon, according to its attorney Sam Jones.

Such a declaration would also bolster the chances of Jacksonville school activists to break off from PCSSD and form their own school district.

“But we’re a long ways from being over. The Joshua Intervenors are going to call all board members and former board members,” he said.

The intervenors insist the district still discriminates.

Also on the witness list for the intervenors, who oppose a finding of unitary status for the district, are Mills High School principal Mike Nellums and former administrator Bill Barnes.

Both men are black, and the district has a long history of opposing Nellums, moving him around and trying to fire him. Barnes reportedly was fired after he testified on Nellums’ behalf during one such recent attempt.

The potential witness list for the Joshua Intervenors is longer by half than PCSSD’s list.
PCSSD has put on witnesses during this first week of testimony aimed at proving the district’s assertion that it was unitary in the areas of discipline, enrollment, teacher assignment, multiculturalism and reducing academic disparity between races.

Jones expects to put witnesses on the stand Monday to finish addressing discipline, special education and hiring and recruiting staff.

“We’re going to have to put on facilities proof,” said Jones. “All we have to prove on facilities is that we did the Kahn report to determine conditions of schools, what was wrong, and what it would cost to fix it.”

“They (Joshua) should stipulate that we built the new schools discussed in Plan 2000—Daisy Bates Elementary, Chenal Elementary and Maumelle Middle School,” Jones said.

Asked to reply to that Thursday, John Walker, the attorney for the intervenors, said, “There’s no way (facilities) are equal. You don’t spend $200 million on schools for rich kids. The 1999 (Kahn Report) promised equal schools. They are creating new violations along the way—separate but equal.”

Walker said PCSSD was in court because of “2007 legislative agitation for PCSSD to seek unitary status.”

That was the year former state Rep. Will Bond, D-Jacksonville, got approved special language encouraging North Little Rock and PCSSD to seek unitary status and providing money for attorneys and for help from the state attorney general’s office in the effort.

The state paid for two expert witnesses and Deputy Attorney Gen. Scott Richardson helped in the preparation of the case and is second chair to Jones in the hearing.

“I think it’s going reasonably well,” Jones said Friday evening. “We have a lot of challenges, but we are doing the best we can to meet those.”

Friday, Warren Dupree Elementary School principal Janice Walker stood fast in the face of pointed cross-examination by John Walker as she testified that academic progress was being made in an orderly fashion by both black and white students at her school and others in the district.

In a challenge apparently tailored as much for the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals as for District Judge Brian Miller, John Walker asked whether the academic plan for student improvement was aimed at Plan 2000, the desegregation agreement PCSSD was to comply with.

Janice Walker, who is also a command sergeant major at Camp Robinson, seemed neither rattled nor intimidated by Walker’s cross-examination and said later it didn’t shake her.

Neither Janice Walker nor others who have testified about the district’s attempted academic progress, could say that improvement efforts were tailored to Plan 2000, but rather to the Arkansas Consolidated School Improvement Plan, or ACSIP.

“We are using all available data to meet the needs of all students including sub-populations,” she said.

“We made double-digit gains in all grades (at Dupree),” she said, “using strategies that work.”

Dupree Elementary was named a 2007-2008 National Distinguished Title I School for dramatically improving academics, she said.

Third-graders improved the number of proficient students in language by 18 percent and by 27 percent in math, she said; fourth- graders proficient in language increased by 22 percent and 17 percent in math; and the number of fifth-graders proficient in language increased by 29 percent and in math by 24 percent.

On his cross-examination, John Walker asked if Janice Walker had been the object of racial discrimination while principal at Landmark Elementary.

“No,” she said.

Walker did establish that the district changed the attendance zone boundaries at Landmark while Janice Walker was there, pulling out the higher-achieving white students.

One of the requirements of Plan 2000 is that the district work to reduce or eliminate the disparity between the academic scores of white and the lower-achieving blacks.

She testified that no one at PCSSD had asked her for a plan about reducing the disparity between test scores for blacks and whites.

She also testified that no one had told her to tailor academic improvement to satisfy the Plan 2000, or its addendum, the Ross Plan.

Janice Walker and others have testified that they were aiming to satisfy requirements of No Child Left behind and of ACIP Plan.

A Ross plan requirement is “To improvement achievement of all with special attention to African- Americans and others at risk.”