Tangipahoa board considers attendance zones

The Tangipahoa Parish School Board is considering creating regional attendance zones in an effort to reduce the costs of desegregating the district and give parents more school choice.

The proposal also may reduce the time spent seeking unitary status and an end to the district’s 47-year-old desegregation case, one board member says.

The board will meet in executive session Monday to discuss the proposal, which would seek to change parts of the district’s desegregation plan dealing with school construction and student assignments.

Any changes to the court-ordered plan will require approval from U.S. District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle, who oversees the case.

Details of the proposal were discussed in executive session Tuesday, but are not being released publicly pending the board reaching a consensus, board member Brett Duncan said.

However, Duncan described the proposal as one that would enhance school choice and competition.

Each household in the parish would be assigned to a home-based school attendance zone, he said. Within each zone, parents would have at least two and up to five options for schools
in which to enroll their children.

“Each of those zones would include schools with their own distinct offerings or magnet programs or themes,” Duncan said. “Not every school would have a theme or enhancement, but every parent would have an option of a school that does.”

The hope is that giving parents options will help voluntarily desegregate the district’s schools, negating the need to build three new elementary schools and significantly redraw attendance lines, Duncan said.

Those schools would cost an estimated $54.5 million and require annual bond payments totaling $4.5 million, according to system documents.

The district is facing a projected deficit of $12.1 million in 2013-14, officials have
said.

The proposal also would not require any new taxes, though the Hammond-area millages supporting magnet programs would need to be renewed, Duncan said.

Because the proposal would not require any school construction, the School Board could begin implementing a new student assignment plan as early as 2013-14, Duncan said.

“Generally in desegregation cases, judges want to see
you implement a student assignment plan for three years before they will consider granting unitary status,” Duncan said. “If we move ahead with building those
new schools, we’re at least two to three years away from being able to start that process.

“Under this proposal, we can go ahead and pull the
trigger on the student assignment portion, potentially reducing six more years of litigation down to three,” Duncan said.

The board will meet in executive session at 9 a.m. Monday in the Central Office Board Room, 59656 Puleston Road, Amite.