Friday, August 21, 2015

EDITORIAL >> JNP district gets warned

Saying the districts aren’t making satisfactory progress in achieving unitary status, U.S. District Judge Price Marshall on Thursday ordered the Pulaski County Special School District, Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District and the Joshua Intervenors to meet monthly to work out specifics of school facilities plans and report back to him in December.

The case assigned to the judge is the desegregation case where PCSSD is the last defendant and the Joshua Intervenors are the plaintiffs.

It’s not about the Jacksonville-North Pulaski detachment, but sometimes you couldn’t tell that sitting in court.

Detachment issues bump up against and sometimes bleed over into desegregation issues and vice-versa, and the judge has his hands full resolving them.

Joshua Intervenors’ attorney John Walker has complained regularly to the judge that his group has been excluded from conversations about issues that affect desegregation and achieving the unitary status necessary to get both districts dismissed from court oversight.

Jacksonville-North Pulaski hasn’t done all it could to include the intervenors in their discussions. They stumbled by hiring as an assistant superintendent a white man over a slightly more qualified black woman. That resulted in PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess refusing to offer that job. Marshall on Thursday reconfirmed Guess’ status as the decision maker for both districts.

Joshua has had no part in resolving and creating the school facilities master plan. Walker complains that determining where schools will go and deciding which to improve and which to build are desegregation issues.

But the intervenors come into court not seeming to know or understand master facility plan mechanics that even casual observers of the JNP school board meetings know.

For years, the PCSSD school board agendas — back when there was a board — always included the Joshua Intervenors on the agenda for comments. If anyone actually attended, they spoke less than a handful of times over several years.

Walker has complained that he doesn’t know what’s going on with the JNP facilities master plan. That’s his fault as well as theirs.

Jacksonville has accomplished a lot over the past couple of years, first with Bobby Lester, then with Tony Wood ramrodding the effort to get everything necessary done before taking complete control next July 1 and actually educating students.

The board did it by going as fast and as far as they could, and, while it’s not always pretty and perhaps not always completely transparent, they have moved the district forward on a credible timetable.

It’s sausage-making 101.

But now the judge has ordered JNPSD, PCSSD and the Joshua Intervenors to meet monthly to create a rough draft of a master facilities plan for both districts.

JNP has hired a consultant who may be the leading authority in understanding master facilities plans and qualification for the state’s matching fund partnership program. To us, it makes good sense. To Walker, it’s cronyism.

Judge Marshall has been thoughtful, incisive, good natured and helpful in discharging his duties as regards the desegregation suit and, as necessary, the detachment process.

In ordering the monthly meetings about the master facilities plan between the parties, he suggested that the host of each meeting should provide pie and drinks, implying that they need to stop being argumentative and pull in tandem to accomplish the task.

They are to report back to Marshall with their rough drafts on Dec. 16. The judge means business.