District asks for nod on staffing, fa­cil­i­ties

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - ARKANSAS - CYN­THIA HOW­ELL

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.”

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