District asks for nod on staffing, facilities
The Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District is asking a federal judge to declare the 4,000-student system unitary — or in compliance with its desegregation obligations — regarding staffing and facilities.
Scott Richardson, an attorney for the district that is only in its second year of independent operation, sent the request to U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. on Friday.
Marshall is the presiding judge in a 34-year-old Pulaski County school desegregation lawsuit to which the Jacksonville/North Pulaski district became a party after it detached from the Pulaski County Special School District.
As a condition for its detachment — a long process that started in 2014 and was completed July 1, 2016 — the Jacksonville district is obligated to show its compliance to the Pulaski County Special district’s desegregation plan, “Plan 2000,” in the same areas of operation in which Pulaski County Special had not at the time shown compliance.
If the Jacksonville district’s motion for unitary status is ultimately approved after a trial that has been set for Feb. 5, the district would be released from further federal court supervision of its staffing practices and the
condition of its school buildings.
The district would remain under supervision, however, in regard to student disciplinary practices and student achievement.
“Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District’s personnel policies and hiring practices have not only been designed to provide ample opportunity for African-American job candidates, but have produced a work force that exceeds the percentage of African Americans in the relevant labor markets,” Richardson wrote to the judge in the motion supporting the request for unitary status.
In regard to facilities, Richardson said the district “has embarked on an extensive building program designed to ensure that all of its ‘facilities are clean, safe, attractive and equal,’” as required by Plan 2000.
Attorneys for black students known as the Joshua intervenors in the lawsuit have been critical of the Jacksonville district’s staffing and facilities efforts and plan to oppose the Jacksonville district’s release from court supervision. The Joshua intervenors’ response to the Jacksonville district’s motion is due to Marshall on Sept. 29.
Richardson said in an interview Friday that there have been discussions with the Joshua attorneys, and there was a settlement conference between the parties that was facilitated by a federal magistrate judge.
“I’m afraid we just didn’t get very far,” Richardson said.
“We haven’t been able to come to an agreement with Joshua, so we filed this,” Richardson said about the motion and the accompanying 25-page brief in support of the motion.
Plan 2000 calls for recruiting applicants for administrative and teaching positions in ways that create diverse pools of applicants from which to select employees. The desegregation plan also calls for ongoing programs, policies and procedures that result in an increase in the number of black teachers in early childhood education programs, primary elementary grades and core academic subjects in secondary schools.
The Pulaski County Special district earlier this year reached an agreement with the Joshua intervenors that the district was entitled to be released from court supervision on staffing. That resulted in the judge releasing that district from further court monitoring in that area. But the Pulaski County Special district remains under court monitoring for student discipline practices and for student achievement.
Richardson argued in part to the judge Friday that the Pulaski County Special district’s release on staffing should apply as well to Jacksonville.
“Accordingly, the stipulation that PCSSD is unitary in staffing is an acknowledgement that PCSSD had complied with this Court’s orders on staffing for a reasonable period of time,” Richardson wrote. “This ‘record of compliance’ would include staffing in the JNPSD schools that were under the supervision of PCSSD until July 1, 2016,” he said.
The attorney also described for the judge the efforts the Jacksonville district has undertaken to recruit a diverse pool of applicants starting in the 201516 school year. That included advertising online and in print media, as well as staffing booths at job fairs at historically black colleges and universities.
The district has set no cap on the numbers of black staff members that can be hired, he said, and has allocated its professional staff among schools in ways to prevent schools becoming racially identifiable.
The district’s teaching staff in the six elementary schools is 24.7 percent black this year, compared with 18.9 percent black in the preceding school year. The number of black teachers ranges from two at Bayou Meto out of a total of 13, to six at Taylor Elementary out of a total of 15. The district also has a racially diverse group of principals and assistant principals.
The Jacksonville district’s motion for unitary status describes efforts to improve the condition of the school buildings, including the construction that is underway of a $66 million high school building and a new $15 million elementary school that will replace Arnold Drive and Tolleson elementaries, “two of the oldest and most problematic facilities in the district,” Richardson wrote.
“As required by the Court, JNPSD has also adopted plans for replacement of all the remaining elementary schools as soon as practicable,” he said, noting that the district is now exploring the possibility of replacing its middle school building, too.
“At the same time, JNPSD has been maintaining its existing facilities so that they are clean, safe, and attractive,” he said. “JNPSD believes that its facility construction plans, if followed to completion, will result in unitary facilities for students in the District.”