Federal court to decide CCSD consolidation

By Amanda McBride
The Choctaw Plaindealer

A federal judge will decide if, when and how the Choctaw County
School District will consolidate its schools.

A hearing will be held March 20 for the judge to hear the CCSD’s and
the United States of America’s plans of how they believe the district
should be consolidated.

CCSD Superintendent Glen Beard says the CCSD will continue to educate
students, no matter the outcome.

“Like everyone I am ready to move forward and get an answer one way
or the other. Regardless of the outcome the district will continue
to educate the students of Choctaw County to the best of our
ability! Doesn’t matter who you are or where your from we will
educate the students that walk into the Choctaw County Schools to the
best of our ability!” said Beard.

The Choctaw County School District filed a “combined motion and
memorandum to modify Desegregation Plan and to grant expedited
consideration of this motion” on October 23, 2012.

“Defendant Choctaw County School District (the “District”) moves the
Court to enter an order modifying its desegregation plan of the
August 5, 1970 Consent Order by consolidating all students in grades
7 through 12 who attend Weir Attendance Center with grades 7 through
12 at Ackerman High School and to grant expedited consideration of
this motion, and in support states as follows,” according to court
documents.

Financial Condition
The CCSD states in the court documents that it’s financial condition
is the motivation of the proposed modification or as commonly called
“restructure” or “consolidation.”
“The District faces a financial crisis during this school year which
will mount to a financial disaster during school year 2013-14 if the
District does not move expeditiously to consolidate grades and
provide educational services on a more economical basis. Based upon
budget projections, the District estimates that during the current
school year, it will have to draw upon its reserve funds to cover
current operations. If the existing school plan is continued without
change for school year 2013-14, the District projects that it will
end the 2013-14 fiscal with a zero balance in its 16th section
interest fund and with a district maintenance fund balance of
approximately $743,000 such that the District would be in a deficit
financial position for operations in 2014-15, in derogation of its
obligations under Mississippi law and subject to takeover by the
State Board of Education,” according the filed motion.

Savings
“The District estimates that implementing its proposed plan will
result in cost savings of approximately $1,178,000 for school year
2013-14 and annually thereafter. These savings will stave off the
financial crisis and enable the District to regain stable financial
footing in the future,” as stated in the filed motion by the CCSD.
CCSD Proposed modification

The filed motion states the following as the proposed consolidation.

“Under the proposed modification, no school will be closed. All
students who attend Weir
in grades 7 – 12 will be moved to Ackerman High. All students pre-K
through grade 6 at
Ackerman and Weir will continue to attend the same schools, and all
students at French Camp for grades pre-K- 8 will continue to attend
French Camp.”

The motion continues stating the proposed plan will benefit
desegregation because all students in the CCSD will attend the same
high school in Ackerman. It also states the consolidated high school
“will facilitate educational and extracurricular opportunities for
students, all with greater economies of scale.”

“The District is in the process of making plans for the
transportation of students under the proposed plan.”

“Faculty and staff will be decreased based upon seniority pursuant to
the reduction-in-force policy under which the District operates,”
according to the court document.

Time is of the essence
Also in the filed motion, the CCSD asks the court for an expedited
hearing because state law requires the district to inform certain
employees in the spring if their contracts will not be renewed.

“The District must know some reasonable time in advance of April 15,
2013, so that it may non-renew contracts if the proposed plan is to
be implemented effectively. If contracts are not non-renewed, even if
the modification motion is later granted, many savings will be lost
for school year 2013-14. Therefore, the District requests the Court
to set this motion for expedited hearing so that the Court may rule
by March, 2013,” according to the filed motion.

United States of America filed
response, partial
objection

The United States of America filed a response and partial objection
to the CCSD’s combined motion and memorandum to modify Desegregation
Plan on March 6, 2013.
According to the filed response, the United States conducted a site
visit to the CCSD from January 29-31, 2013 to tour the schools, speak
with the community and interview district officials.

The USA states that schools in Ackerman and Weir are “focal points
for the community and the high school sports teams in Ackerman and
Weir are sources of community identity and intergenerational pride.”

The court document states that facilities at Weir and Ackerman are
both in “overall satisfactory condition.”

“Weir is structured to house both middle and high school students
and has a football field and field house, baseball and softball
fields, a high school library, chorus room, science lab, agricultural
and plant science lab, information and communications technology lab,
gym, locker rooms and weight rooms, greenhouse, and indoor baseball
facility, states the court document.

USA Proposed plan
“After reviewing the information gathered, the United States informed
the District that it agreed to the consolidation of all high school
students (grades 9 through 12) at Ackerman High School, but opposed
that portion of the Second Plan that would also move all middle
school students from Weir to Ackerman.”

“Instead, the United States proposed to the District that it
consolidate all middle school students (grades 6 through 8) at Weir,
and send students at French Camp in grades 3 through 5 to Weir (the
“United States’ Plan”),” according to the filed response and partial
objection.

“The District rejected this proposal on March 4, 2013. Because the
parties were unable to resolve this amicably and in a way that
furthered the District’ desegregation obligations, the United States
files this objection to the elementary and middle school components
of the District’s Second Plan.”

USA objects to elementary, middle school components of district plan
The court documents states that the CCSD’s plan must be modified
because it does not “adequately further desegregation at the
elementary and middle school level and instead places most of the
burden of consolidation disproportionately and unjustifiably on the
black students in the community. The Second Plan is not designed to
enhance desegregation.”

The USA agrees with the high school component of the CCSD’s plan to
consolidate all district high school students at AHS. The court
documents states AHS facilities are appropriate including because
it’s the campus of the Choctaw County Career and Technology Center.
The USA states in their filed response several reasons why the CCSD
plan places “unjustifiable burden on the black community” of Weir.

Disproportionate Burden of the
Proposed
Modification on the Black Community
“Under the Second Plan, the only student attendance zone that the
District would alter is Weir. Ackerman and French Camp would not
change, but Weir would lose six secondary grades, essentially
shuttering half of the Weir Attendance Center,” states court
documents from the USA.

“The plan would also make Weir the school with the lowest overall
enrollment in the District, which is not commensurate with its size,
its facilities for middle and high school students, and the size of
the community residing within the attendance zone. See discussion
supra. Furthermore, eliminating all of the secondary grades in a
community where the school and its sports teams are a focal point
could be devastating to Weir.”

The explanation continues, “In addition, the only students in the
District who would have to be reassigned and also experience an
increase in transportation time to and from school would be the
middle and high school students from Weir. Because the student
population residing within the Weir attendance zone is predominantly
black, the burden of desegregation would fall primarily on black
students. Black students would be reassigned schools at a rate nearly
three times the rate of white students.”

Lack of validity of district’s
justification
The court documents from the USA states the district’s reasons for
the modification plan, “none of which justifies the disproportionate
burden placed on the black community.”

The court documents state the CCSD supports its’ modification plan
because “Weir has experienced a greater decrease in enrollment and a
higher cost per pupil than other schools” and it would “simplify the
approval process for restructuring.”

The USA states in court documents, “The court noted that the school
district could reduce its instructional costs and reverse the under-
enrollment at the all-black school by adding students from the
predominantly white schools to the all-black school.”

“…Defendant can remedy the concerns of the greater per-pupil costs
and under-enrollment at Weir by transferring students from other
schools to Weir, consolidating grades in an economical manner, and
utilizing the many high quality upper-grade facilities at Weir.
Therefore, Defendant has failed to justify the unequal burden placed
by its proposed modification on black students.”

Existence of
available
alternatives
The USA says the CCSD has other alternatives to its proposed
modification including the district’s first modification plan.

“In fact, the First Plan, passed by the District in June 2012, would
have distributed the burdens of consolidation more equitably,” states
the court documents.

“The District’s first plan maintained secondary grades at Weir
(grades 6-8) while pairing the French Camp and Weir attendance zones
at French Camp elementary for Pre-Kindergarten through 5th grade. It
also required all of the District’s students to attend Weir for
grades 6-8 and Ackerman for grades 9-12.”

“This first plan promoted more desegregation than the plan that is
before the Court today and spread the burden of consolidation on all
communities, as opposed to letting it rest solely on the
predominantly black community.”

“The District claims that the reason it ultimately rejected the First
Plan and proposed the Second Plan was to avoid one step in the
process. That step, according to the District, requires obtaining
approval from Montgomery and Attala to alter the grade structure at
French Camp Elementary, and is allegedly necessary because of a state
law that would require such approval,” according to court documents.

“The District claims, in effect, that Mississippi law (Miss. Code
Ann. § 37-7-315) prohibits it from changing, altering, or abolishing
the use of French Camp Elementary School without the approval of the
school boards of Attala and Montgomery counties.

That law states, in pertinent part, “Where students from three (3) of
more school districts are in attendance at one (1) attendance center
by order of the respective school boards of the school districts from
which pupils have been in attendance at the attendance center for the
scholastic year; any acts decisions, orders or resolutions by the
school board of any such school district in conflict with this
provision shall be null and void.”

“The District does not allege, nor could it, that this state law
prohibits alterations to the French Camp zone altogether. Solely in
an effort to “simplify the approval process,” the District has
proposed the Second Plan, rather than seek approval from Montgomery
and Attala for a grade restructuring that would further desegregation
at the elementary level,” according to court documents.

USA proposes
alternative
modification plan
The USA proposes to consolidate all high school students at Ackerman,
consolidate all middle school students at Weir and to pair Weir and
French Camp for grades 3-5 at Weir. And operate an “early childhood
center” at French Camp Elementary with grades Pre-K-2.

“Under this plan, racially identifiable schools in the district would
be eliminated,” states the court documents.
In the footnotes of this court documents, the USA proposes to change
the name of the high school to Ackerman-Weir High School to “reduce
the burden off of the Weir community.” Also to change the name of the
middle school to Choctaw Middle School or Choctaw County Middle School.

USA also proposes for the colors and mascots to be changed and more
for both the high school and middle school.

“Along with input from all of the affected communities in the county,
the District would select new colors and a new mascot for the school.
The athletic teams should alternate locations of the home games
between the facilities at Ackerman and Weir. The District should
attempt to blend the schools and their teachers, coaches,
extracurricular activity advisers, and support staff instead of
simply shutting down Weir middle and high schools and terminating
wholesale its rich traditions and strong sense of community.”

“The District should attempt to blend the schools and their teachers,
coaches, extracurricular activity advisers, and support staff from
the District’s schools. The elementary school grades will continue to
be called Weir Elementary School,” according to court documents.