Tangipahoa board to offer desegregation plan

The Tangipahoa Parish School Board will seek public input on cost-saving alternatives to the district’s current desegregation plan, including the addition of more magnet programs, redrawing attendance zones and clustering schools, board attorney Bob Hammonds said Monday.

The School Board met in executive session for more than five hours Monday to discuss ways to effectively desegregate the parish’s schools without spending an estimated $54.5 million to build three new elementary schools as required under a court-ordered desegregation plan.

Hammonds and associate attorney Pamela Wescovich Dill will turn the options into a draft outline for a proposal that will then be subject to a public hearing, according to a unanimous vote of the board following executive session.

Hammonds said there is no set timeline for drafting the outline, getting input from stakeholders and seeking approval from U.S. District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle, who oversees the district’s 47-year-old desegregation case.

The attorney said he hopes to have a first draft complete before winter break, however, because some School Board members have said they would like to implement whatever plan is agreed upon by the fall of 2013.

“It’s a very ambitious timeline, but I wouldn’t say it’s impossible,” Hammonds said.

Board members referred all questions about the proposal to Hammonds, who was generally mum on the specifics. However, he said that the options discussed included adding more magnet programs or “educational enhancements” in parish schools, redrawing attendance zones, and pairing or clustering schools by grade levels.

Board member Brett Duncan said last week the board was considering creating regional attendance zones in which parents would have multiple options, including at least one magnet program, for schools in which to enroll their children.

The board’s goal, Hammonds said, is to put together a tentative proposal in order to elicit comments from the public.

“Sometimes I find if you go to a community without a plan and just say, ‘Tell us what you think,’ you get silence,” he said. “The outline will be something to begin from. It’s intended to be ‘a’ plan, not ‘the’ plan.”

Board member Sandra Bailey Simmons said following Monday’s vote that the board wants the public to be involved in this process.

“We do want to hear from them and what they think the alternatives should be,” Simmons said. “That might make a difference.”

The push for changes to the district’s current desegregation plan comes amid discussions about a projected system deficit of $12 million for 2013-14.

System officials previously had expected a $10 million shortfall next year, but recently learned that another increase in state-mandated retirement contributions will add $1.9 million to that burden.