Local elementaries meet fed guidelines for racial balance

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 1, 2000

Bowmar Elementary School second-graders Hayley McManaway, left, and Haley Sims walk hand in hand during recess Tuesday afternoon. (The Vicksburg Post/PAT SHANNAHAN)

Elementaries in the Vicksburg Warren School District are within guidelines set by federal courts for racial balance, meaning a goal announced in the School Choice program has been met.

Standards are that each school in the district have a ratio of blacks to whites within 5 percentage points of the district’s total enrollment.

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Out of 9,160 students enrolled in the countywide district, 59 percent are black, 40 percent are white and 125 students, less than 1 percent, are classified as other minorities.

The only school within the district not to fall within the 5 percentage point variance is Bowmar Avenue Elementary.

“A lot of those parents who had signed up for Bowmar have left to go to programs in other schools,” said Superintendent Donald Oakes.

At Bowmar, 65 percent of the student body is black and 35 percent is white. That puts the proportion of black students one percentage point too high. The school was designated as a magnet facility, meaning it can accept students from anywhere in the county, to help balance out that ratio, Oakes said.

The Center for Alternative Programs also had a higher ratio of black students to white students than the district average. Of the 187 students at that school, 83 percent are black and 16 percent are white.

Oakes said the School Choice plan put into effect in the 1999-2000 school year also had the purpose of giving parents an option of where to send their K-4 children. Since the parents’ choices are subject to administrative adjustment, racial balance can also be achieved and maintained because there are no individual school district lines. Most parents’ first choices have been granted, since the program began.

“The only assignments we had to make this year were in kindergarten,” Oakes said.

Before School Choice, schools such as Halls Ferry Elementary were as high as 85 percent black while other schools in the district were majority white. Under the plan, two new elementaries were built, five others including Halls Ferry were closed, and renovations were made to the remaining four elementaries, not including Bowmar.

The tab, about $30 million, is being paid with Mississippi Adequate Education Act and local funds. No increase in the tax levy was ordered, although through a reappraisal and growth, the school district has millions in new income.

The numbers in the report do not reflect enrollment at St. Aloysius or Porters Chapel. Countywide, 58 percent of the population is white and 41 percent is black, according to a 1998 estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau. Statewide, 62.5 percent of the population is white and 36.5 percent is black.

Other numbers in the report include the percentage of teachers based on race.

Of the 598 full-time teachers in the school district, 30 percent are black and 69 percent are white. Six teachers are of other minority races.

Oakes said those numbers should change. “They tell us we have to work toward balancing that out also,” he said.

Out of seven part-time teachers, one is black and six are white.