Tuesday, December 11, 2012

TOP STORY >> Unitary status hearing in fall

Leader senior staff writer

Federal Judge D. Price Marshall agreed Monday to hear evidence next fall that the Pulaski County Special School District is moving closer to achieving unitary status in four areas, which could help the district achieve unitary status and perhaps move Jacksonville and north Pulaski County closer to detaching from PCSSD and forming a stand-alone district.

Before handing off the case about a year ago, Judge Brian Miller found PCSSD unitary in three of 12 areas. District administrators believe they are unitary or nearly so in four other areas.

On Nov. 6, they asked Marshall to allow them to present evidence that the district is desegregated in those four areas, each in a separate hearing expected to take about one day, according to Sam Jones, the district’s attorney for desegregation matters.

Those areas are:

 Student assignment

 Advance placement

 Gifted and talented and honors programs

 Special education and staffing.


Marshall said he would schedule time in August and September for those hearings. He said, “The court is heartened that from the Joshua perspective, PCSSD is moving diligently to address the areas where the district is not in compliance.”

The Joshua Intervenors, represented by attorney John Walker, and PCSSD have seldom agreed on anything in the 12 years that the district has been bound by the current desegregation agreement,

Marshall wants more data, including from the first semester of this school year.

While some news reports characterized the ruling as denial of granting unitary status in those areas, Superintendent Jerry Guess said it was a favorable ruling, as did Jones.

“We never thought we were going to get unitary status (in this ruling)” Guess said.

“The judge complimented us on successfully negotiating Walker’s fees instead of litigating them,” Guess said, “and we believe it was favorable to the district.”

“He appreciates our diligent movement forward. We’re working to be sure we’ve met (desegregation) Plan 2000 where we are not unitary,” he said.

Among the challenges will be to make sure that minority students are not overrepresented in special education.


On May 19, 2011, before the case was reassigned from Miller to Marshall, Miller found that the district was unitary in three areas:

 Interdistrict education by magnet schools and majority to minority transfers.

 Multicultural education.

 Allocation of school resources.

Achieving unitary status is not the only major challenge facing PCSSD. In June 2011, the district was found by the state Education Department to be in fiscal distress. Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell dissolved the district’s school board, fired Superintenedent Charles Hopson and hired Guess as the interim superintendent.

Under the current law, the state has two years to bring the district out of fiscal distress. The district has had a declining year-end balance that was headed into the red.

Guess said Tuesday he didn’t know how the state would know when the district is no longer in fiscal distress.

“That’s a good question,” he said.