Friday, August 12, 2016

EDITORIAL >> Judge says no to transfer

It didn’t take long for U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. to rule against the state Board of Education, which last month approved the transfer of a Jacksonville High School student to Cabot in violation of the existing desegregation agreement.

The Board of Education, for no stated purpose, suddenly changed from its practice of turning down school transfer appeals to suddenly granting one for the Dulaney family, saying they wanted to do what was best for the family.

We don’t dispute that, but suspect what they wanted to do was to challenge the Jacksonville district’s independence as it begins the new school year after a 30-year struggle to break from the Pulaski County Special School District.

The family’s attorney and the state argued that they were not bound by a provision in the desegregation settlement agreement that Judge Marshall signed off on previously. Interestingly, the board felt bound by that agreement through lunch at the July board meeting, but without comment reversed itself after lunch.

Marshall made his decision Monday after hearing arguments for about three hours, and Tuesday Marshall issued a written order overturning the state board’s action and thus putting aside that board’s action that allowed “K. Dulaney,” as the student was identified in court, to attend the Cabot Freshman Academy, outside her school district of residence, putting an end to the state board’s effort to make an end run around that 2014 settlement agreement.

That agreement allows JNPSD and the Pulaski County Special School District to waive the otherwise applicable school choice transfer provisions.

Under Marshall’s order, it appears that those two districts may claim exemption to school choice transfers at least through the 2018-2019 school year.

The PCSSD brief noted that both districts were among those listed on the Arkansas Department of Education’s website as claiming an exemption from participating in school choice.

Districts under court supervision for desegregation purposes are exempt. This gives the new district a little breathing room as it works toward meeting the needs of its students rather than lawyers who are trying to sock it to the burgeoning district.

PCSSD, JNPSD and the Joshua Intervenors argued that the state board exceeded its authority; Marshall’s order validated that interpretation.

Lawyers for the state and for the Dulaneys also argued that state court, not Marshall’s court, was the proper venue for the school districts’ appeal.

Scott Richardson, who was a chief deputy attorney general who helped craft the desegregation settlement in 2014, is now an attorney for JNPSD.

He and attorney Patrick Wilson filed suit against the Board of Education on July 28, seeking an injunction against the board granting such student appeals.

Richardson argued that the new district would lose badly needed revenue if students from the new, untested district could transfer at will to white flight districts like Cabot.

The state and Dulaney also sought intervenor status in the matter, but in refusing, Marshall ruled that the family’s interests were represented by the state’s lawyers.

The state board argued that the operative factor should be what’s best for the student. Let us praise Judge Marshall for allowing Jacksonville- North Pulaski to move forward without interference from the state board.

After at least 30 years, with supporters steadfastly pushing through, over and around obstacles, their efforts will be rewarded Monday when the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District welcomes students to its first day of classroom instruction.

Starting with nothing but permission to detach from PCSSD, a deal to buy the buildings within the boundaries and great dedication, expertise and leadership, the new district has jumped through an amazing number of hoops, and without a roadmap.

With former interim Superintendent Bobby Lester, an appointed school board and then an elected school board and Superintendent Tony Wood, the district has met every challenge.

Wood was commissioner of the state Board of Education until a new governor replaced him with Johnny Key, the inexperienced and perhaps unqualified former legislator, but that made the highly qualified Wood free to help guide JNPSD toward independence.

This bunch and many others have brought us to the brink of a new district.

The future’s so bright, we’re gonna need shades.