The Jackson Parish School Board (JPSB) last night voted 4-3 at a special called meeting to adopt new school zones for the district beginning with the 2016-2017 school year. The result will be to shift about 375 students among the district’s five schools – Quitman, Weston, Jonesboro-Hodge High School, Southside Elementary, and Jonesboro Middle School.
Voting yes were:
Mary Saulters – District 1
Calvin Waggoner – District 2
Melissa Perry – District 3
Dennis Clary – District 7
Voting no were:
Gerry Mims – District 4
Gloria Davis – District 5
Wade McBride – District 6
Clary made the motion to adopt the plan, with Saulters seconding. There was no discussion among the board members prior to the vote.
See here a map of the new school zones.
The vote followed 2 1/2 hours of public comment from at least thirty area citizens, who, to a person, were opposed to the plan. Several hundred people filled the J-HHS auditorium to near capacity.
Fielding questions from the crowd was contract board attorney Robert Hammonds, who negotiated the plan with the plaintiff, the U. S. Department of Justice (DOJ). On hand with Hammonds was Mike Hefner of Geographic Planning & Demographic Services, who compiled the data and mapping.
Hammonds reviewed the data that led to the new zones, saying that the racial imbalance at all the schools were outside the guidelines deemed acceptable to the DOJ. Hammonds said that if the board did not accept the plan as proposed, likely Judge Robert James would impose a plan with more drastic changes.
Hammond added that if the proposed plan were adopted, the district could move in December, 2017 to have the 51 year-old lawsuit dismissed. A dismissal would allow the district to get out from under federal control, Hammonds said.
See here the summary memo.
Many of the comments were unhappy that the plan was a surprise, and no opportunity for citizen input was given.
Typical of the comments:
Ricky McBride, “We should be able to go to our schools, and our board members come and present this information to us in smaller groups where we can understand it. We had no idea, other than the fact that y’all were fixing to take kids out of every school district and move them, we had no idea what’s going on. And that’s not fair and that’s not right.”
Shoentae Mims, “These are our children, they’re not numbers. School board members, my suggestion to you is that you table this vote tonight until you get some feedback from all your constituents in your districts, because this is not right. We weren’t informed. Give us a chance to come up with a better solution.”
Former State Senator Rick Gallot, “The people who you represent – those who have elected you – feel like they’ve not had sufficient time to absorb what it is that you all are having to decide on. I would suggest to you having been in a similar situation that you sit in right now, that these folks would like to have a little more time to interact with you, so that they can talk about their special needs children, or about their children who are in art, or how it may impact them based upon where they live.”
One citizen said that that he had heard that board members were told by Magistrate Judge Karen Hayes, who was overseeing the negotiations, that the matter was not to be discussed with anyone outside of the mediation sessions.
District 3’s Melissa Perry confirmed to Lincoln Parish News Online that was indeed the case.
Said Perry, “This was not to be briefed until there was a plan in Bob’s (Hammond) hand that he could show to the public. It was not to be talked, at all.”
See here Hayes’ order for a settlement conference.
A few of the speaker suggested that consolidation of the district into a single school could be a solution.