Friday, December 09, 2016

TOP STORY >> District needs more diversity

Leader senior staff writer

U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall on Wednesday set aside the carrot and broke out the stick for the first time in the ongoing desegregation suit involving Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District, Pulaski County Special School District and the Joshua Intervenors.

He told the parties to resolve the unitary staffing issue or prepare for trial and reserved Sept. 11, 2017, on his calendar to begin the trial.


“We are going to make progress, one way or the other,” Marshall said.

By that date, JNPSD will have been through its second round of hiring, enough to get an idea of whether or not its hiring practices comply with the desegregation agreement.

He set the week of Feb. 5, 2018, for an evidentiary hearing for pretrial on both issues—staffing and facilities for PCSSD. He set the September trial date for JNPSD.

“I’ve repeatedly asked for cooperation time after time,” Marshall said.

But lawyers for the Intervenors and JNPSD have expressed different standards of what qualifies for unitary.


John Walker, attorney for the Intervenors for about 30 years, believes staff hiring should closely resemble the percentage of black students in the majority black district, while Scott Richardson, representing JNPSD, says the district is doing all it can and that a good-faith effort is the standard.

In regards to attaining unitary status in facilities, Walker maintains that only all new facilities, and quick, is acceptable.

Richardson responded that the district didn’t have enough money to build, in addition to the new high school to open in August 2019 and a new elementary school to open a year earlier, it is working toward another elementary school to be built in 2022.


Walker said the district should look to sources other than existing millage tax and state partnership money. He proposed another tax increase vote.

Richardson countered that district voters last year passed a 7.6-mill increase, and it now has the second-highest school millage in the state.

“It’s not prudent to make plans on money we can’t predict,” Richardson said.

“Three or four years ago, nothing was planned,” Richardson said. “Now we have an extensive plan.”

He told the judge that about 80 percent of the district’s black students would be in new schools, plus the renovated middle school within seven years—this in a part of the district that hasn’t seen a new school built in more than 50 years.


Walker also said exterior renderings of the new Jacksonville High School look like it’s a jail, not a school, and helps prepare students for jail. He compared it to the Pulaski County Detention Facility on Roosevelt Road in Little Rock.

Walker said it would benefit Jacksonville District to include the Joshua Intervenors in planning for the buildings.

He said JNPSD seems disproportionately interested in basketball courts compared to academic spaces.

The judge said that if these issues weren’t resolved soon, “There needs to be a trial so I can decide for better or for worse and the parties can move on, either to appeal or to other things…”