Deseg consultant issues update to Avoyelles School Board


   There are no major findings that might derail the Avoyelles Parish School System’s journey to end a decades-old desegregation case, a court-appointed monitor told the School Board on Nov. 1.
   Alexandria attorney Mike Johnson, who oversees the three-year monitoring period imposed by U.S. District Judge Dee Drell in May 2015,  said the board could be out from under the desegregation order by June 1, 2018. However, he said plaintiff Allen Holmes or the U.S. Justice Department have the right to file objections at least 60 days before that date if they have reasons to believe federal oversight should continue.
   If there is no objection, the desegregation suit would be closed. If there is, the court would consider the arguments and decide whether to end federal supervision.
  Johnson said former Rapides Parish Superintendent Gary Jones, whom he hired to assist in the monitoring project, has been making quarterly visits to schools to ensure actions have been taken to comply with the federal court’s consent decree on desegregation. Johnson and Jones meet with Superintendent Blaine Dauzat and district staff to review those compliance reports. Data is collected and put into a report to the federal court and to the parties in the case.
  “The report this year shows the high schools are roughly even,” Johnson told board members. “High school student enrollment is about 47 percent black, 50 percent white and 3 percent other. The black enrollment grew by 2.4 percent, but the overall enrollment declined by 31 students.”
  LaSAS is 31 percent black and Bunkie Magnet High is 56.9 percent black by enrollment. Marksville and Avoyelles high schools are both close to the district’s overall black-white ratio at the high school level, Johnson said. He noted that Bunkie’s enrollment numbers are not alarming because the school’s total enrollment, including junior high grades, is roughly 55 percent black and 45 percent white.
   “The district’s recruitment plan has paid off,” Johnson continued. “Next year’s report will show that approximately 40 percent of the incoming class at LaSAS is black.”
  In the six elementary schools,  Johnson said Bunkie Elementary and Lafargue Elementary are the “outliers,” with Bunkie being too black and Lafargue too white. Both schools are more than 20 points outside of the district’s overall makeup for elementary enrollment. He said both schools have closed the gap, with Bunkie’s black enrollment down 1.2 percent and Lafargue’s black enrollment up 1.2 percent.
  The overall elementary enrollment in the district is 50 percent black, 48 percent white and 2 percent other. There has been a s 0.5 percent growth in black enrollment overall in the elementary grades.
Johnson said the majority-to-minority transfer program has been effected in some schools, such as Marksville High, where blacks are now in the majority and blacks from other schools cannot transfer to Marksville.
   Johnson said Dauzat and Central Office administrators have responded to issues that arise and school administrators are making good faith efforts to meet the consent order requirements.
   Moving the construction of an auditorium at Bunkie Magnet would be viewed favorably by the court, Johnson noted. The board is considering moving that project up a year. He said the School Board needs to find ways to strengthen the academic programs at Bunkie Elementary.
   “The court is more likely to accept a predominantly minority school if the district has provided innovative and compensatory programs there,” Johnson continued. “Providing additional educational resources and instructional assistance is an example.”
   Jones told board members that next year’s report will be more indepth and contain a check list of items the board must follow. At this time, Jones said the school system is “right on track” with no obvious major issues facing it.