Teague responds to parents’ questions about ‘alternative’ desegregation plan

Fayette County Director of Schools James Teague recently responded to parents’ questions about an “alternative” plan the school system will present to the U.S. Department of Justice regarding the desegregation Consent Order.

At a Nov. 29 community meeting in the Oakland Elementary School Cafeteria, Teague said the school system agreed last summer to make both OES and Southwest Elementary pre-K-5 schools, to construct a new school building on the North Campus in Somerville to open for the 2014-15 academic year and to apply for a federal grant to establish a “magnet” school at Northwest Elementary.
Parents living in a Controlled Choice Zone, depicted in “purple” on a map, would choose “in order of preference” to send their children to OES, Southwest or the new school in Somerville.
But after the agreement was signed, Teague said, the school system discovered that it had less than $200,000 in its fund balance instead of the expected $1.5 million. Because the system believes it is impossible for it to finance the Consent Order, it has developed an “alternative” plan.
It still calls for the new school building to be constructed in Somerville by August 2014, and for OES and Southwest to be made pre-K-5 schools. But the Controlled Choice Zone will be reduced in size to an area depicted in “pink” inside the purple on the map.
Somerville and Jefferson Elementary schools will be closed and absorbed into the new school. Northwest and Central Elementary schools will also be closed, and the new school will be built to a 900-student instead of a 600-student capacity.
Following are some of the questions parents asked at the Nov. 29 meeting and Teague’s responses to them:
How is it going to be beneficial to have buses from three different schools come within the same neighborhood?
Teague: When you make your choice, one of the parameters for this will be that, if you live within a certain distance of the school, you would stay at that school. It would make no sense for you to live next-door to Oakland Elementary and ship you to Southwest.
How can someone who is zoned in the Oakland community be zoned for Somerville, when the Northwest kids have preference over me?         
Teague: I’m not sure they have preference over you. The purpose of Controlled Choice is to make each school racially unidentifiable. In other words, there should be no school that is 90-percent white or 90-percent black.
Don’t you think this devastates property values when you have Oakland split up in three ways?
Teague: The current Consent Order we’re under is represented by the purple area on the map. All these people will be affected by Controlled Choice. Under the alternative plan, represented by the pink area on the map, the number of people affected will be much smaller. Does it still include Oakland? Yes. But it includes a smaller group of Oakland people.
Have you shown this alternative plan to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Legal Defense Fund?
Teague: No. But I’ll tell you like I tell everybody else. The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. And the only way to eat that elephant is to take the first bite. The first bite was to develop a plan. The next bite was to make sure we could finance that plan. And the next bite will be to go to the Department of Justice and LDF.
Shouldn’t you wait to see whether you have that grant to do that magnet school at Northwest before you make these kinds of determinations?     
Teague: We are doing everything we can to live up to the Consent Order that we agreed to. You can’t even apply for the grant until April 2013.
Under the current Consent Order that was agreed to last summer, if we move forward with a magnet school at Northwest and it remains racially identifiable, will you have to bus children from Oakland to Northwest to get it racially diverse?
Teague: If we are successful in getting a grant for a magnet school, and that does not remove the racial identifiability of Northwest, then this purple Controlled Choice Zone will be moved up to include the northwestern part of the county, where Northwest is. Then, the people in Oakland, the people at the new school, those at Southwest and at Northwest will get to make one of four choices, with Northwest being the fourth choice.
What’s going to happen when more people move out of Shelby County into Fayette County, and we’re racially identifiable again? Are we going to have to re-zone again to change things around again to make it work, because you’re going to have most of the kids going to Somerville?
Teague: The entire goal of this Consent Order is to make our schools racially unidentifiable, so that the federal court will leave us alone. Once we get everything straight, and we are not racially identifiable, the federal courts will say, “You’ve made a good-faith effort. You’ve done a good job, and we’re going to let you out from under this Consent Order.” At that time, we will not go back to black and white schools. We will try our best to maintain racial unidentifiability, but we won’t be under the same constraints that we’re under now. We’ll build the school in Somerville, because the Consent Order says, “You will build a school on the North Campus to be opened August 2014.”
Where’s the plan for growth? Why are you going to do something that, whenever it creates another problem, your solution is you go back to what you were doing?
Teague: The DOJ and LDF said you will build no school in Fayette County until you take care of those kids in the Gallaway area. Both the Consent Order that we’re under now and the alternative plan have the ultimate goal of unitary status. We’re under a time line to do a number of these things by August 2014. And our planning is centered around fulfilling this Consent Order by then. We can’t go anywhere until we achieve unitary status, either under the Consent Order or the alternative plan. We don’t have a growth plan until we get unitary status.
What are you going to do if the DOJ and LDF say no to your alternative plan?
Teague: We’re going to build a new school at the North Campus to be opened August 2014. We’re going to make OES and Southwest pre-K-5 schools, and we’re going to do our best to get a grant from the federal government to open a magnet school at Northwest. That’s the same plan that we’re under right now. We have nothing to lose by trying a better plan. We started out this discussion, not about finances or transportation, but about academics and what could be done with the students in those four schools. And that’s the driving force behind this. I wouldn’t be an educator if I would sacrifice academics for anything. I’m not going to do that, and this plan will not do that. Actually, it will enrich the academics.