School board member remains opposed to community plan

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 26, 2004

Will Harris addresses the Vicksburg Warren School District at Thursday’s meeting. (Melanie Duncan ThortisThe Vicksburg Post)

[3/26/04]Though the Community School Initiative has an early OK from federal authorities, the longest-serving board member is still against moving forward.

“I haven’t seen any data,” District 2 Trustee Zelmarine Murphy said. “I’d like to see an in-depth report, I’d like to see maps.”

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Superintendent James Price proposed in December a plan to return the district’s seven elementary schools to community-oriented schools and presented his plan to U.S. Justice Department officials last week.

“I was not aware of what was being presented in Washington,” Murphy said.

Despite plan modifications that came after Price’s trip to Washington, D.C., Murphy said she remains opposed.

The revised community plan will be presented in April, delayed a month while the district’s attorney, Jim Chaney, completes the file for federal officials.

The justice department has had control over ensuring racial balances in the school district since the 1960s.

Price’s original plan included reopening Bovina Elementary, building a school inside city limits, ensuring a racial balance and returning all elementary schools to K-6. The district’s current configuration calls for all fifth- and sixth-graders to attend one of two megaschools in the district, either Dana Road or Sherman Avenue.

After returning from the capital, Price said he would move forward with the plan, but would hold off on reopening Bovina and building a new school.

Price sought approval from faculty, principals, the community and board members before taking the matter to the nation’s capital.

Nearly 80 percent of teachers voted in favor of the plan, about 90 percent of the 4,000 input forms from the community were for the plan, principals voted unanimously in favor of the plan and board members voted 3-2 in favor of the proposal.

Murphy and District 1 Trustee Betty Tolliver, the board’s only black members, voted against the initiative.

Some members of the black community, including Will Harris, have said the plan is a racial issue. Harris addressed the board at Thursday’s meeting.

“There is no way I’d agree to going back to community schools,” Harris said. “From the very beginning, community schools were marred and racially motivated.”

He said the plan was for a segregated system, echoing comments made in January by John Shorter. Shorter told the board the plan would result in a segregated school system.

If the board approves the revised plan in April, the motion to return to community schools will go before the courts.

If a judge approves the change, the initiative would be in place in the 2005-06 school year.

In the coming school year, the district will remain under the School Choice Program, as it has since 1999.

The choice program allows parents to choose one of three elementaries from their zone for their child to attend, and all fifth-and sixth-graders attend one of two megaschools.

The megaschools, Sherman Avenue and Dana Road, cost the district $23 million.

Price’s plan was to cost $10.5 million for repairs to schools and construction of a new facility. The modified plan is of no cost to taxpayers.