School officials in capital to propose community plan

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 19, 2004

[3/17/04]U.S. Justice Department staffers will hear Thursday the proposal to return to community elementaries in Vicksburg and Warren County.

James Price, superintendent of the Vicksburg Warren School District, and Jim Chaney, attorney for the district, have appointments with the federal officials in Washington, D.C.

The agenda includes informal meetings tonight and the proposal will be presented Thursday morning.

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Price said he is taking documentation to accompany the proposal he made shortly after being hired as the 9,200-student district’s superintendent in July.

“I’m taking all written reports from media, tapes of board meetings, maps of Warren County with proposed zones, letters we’ve received and analysis of the input forms,” Price said. “We’re taking everything we can possibly think of that they’ll need to take a look at.”

Federal officials have veto power over school alignments here under consent decrees stemming from racial desegregation in the 1960s.

Since the plan was proposed, Price has polled faculty, the community and the board of trustees.

Eighty percent of the faculty of the 9,000-student district voted in favor of the plan; of the nearly 4,000 input forms that were turned in by the community, 90 percent were in favor; and the school board voted 3-2 in support of the plan.

The proposal includes:

Building a new elementary in the heart of the city. School officials have looked at the former Carr Central High School property. Only Bowmar and Warrenton elementaries are inside the city limits. New construction accounts for most of the $10.5 million price of the plan;

Opening the school at Bovina, closed for five years, as an elementary;

Returning all elementaries to K-6 schools; and

Redrawing district lines to ensure racial balance.

When created in 1986 by combining formerly separate city and county districts, the K-6 configuration and zones were established with exceptions being magnet elementaries at Bowmar and Grove. As population shifts tended to resegregate elementaries, a School Choice plan was adopted that closed five elementaries and controlled racial balance administratively.

The $23 million plan, in effect for the 1999-2000 school year, included the construction of two megaschools, Dana Road and Sherman Avenue.

Price will return Thursday night and is hopeful he’ll have an inkling of the department’s opinions.

“I hope they’ll give me some indication of which way they’re leaning,” Price said. “I hope to come back with a feel for what they’re going to do.”

Price has said his motive is not financial, but to foster stronger community identity with nearby schools. Opponents have said the choice-based plan needs time to work.

Calls to the public affairs office of the U.S. Justice Department were not returned.