Minden Press-Herald

Sep 30th

Board not united over unitary status


The board room heated up at last night's Webster Parish School Board meeting concerning the public discussion in seeking unitary status.

Board members discussed the unitary status before the public stated their opinions in a meeting that lasted two and a half hours.

"I wasn't prepared and wouldn't be prepared to vote either way without some conversation from the public, from taxpayers," said District 8 board member Ronnie Broughton. "That was my idea at the time. The community needs to understand why we are looking at it. We need to have public input. I wanted public opinion."

Frankie Mitchell, District 9, asked the board to state who wanted unitary status to be on the agenda.

Jerry Lott, District 11, said he asked for it to be put on the agenda.

"The reason that I asked to be put on the agenda in our last meeting is because I went away from here with the impression that some local pastors and others in the community hadn't had any input," Lott said. "I do not see items within the court order that are not in compliance. After 50 years, I believe it is time to assume our responsibility. If we aren't in compliance then give me an example of where we are discriminating."

Malachi Ridgel, District 2, asked the board and audience how many know the green factors. Only two persons in the audience raised their hand. The green factors includes transportation, extracurricular activities, facilities equal for every child, staff assignments, teacher assignments, student assignments and good faith.

"How can we have a unitary system without diversity?" Ridgel said. "Let's be fair and straightforward with the folks we represent. To operate under the cloud of deception is wrong."

District 6 representative Robert Holloway said the board needs to agree.

"We have to come together and figure something out," he said.

According to Lott, the green factors must be equal and the judge will decide if the school system is in compliance.

"Good faith is determined by the judge and no lawyer will tell you what a federal judge will say," Rigel said.

Mitchell explained that good faith is doing what is right to do, regardless of what it is.

"The pastor at the last meeting summed it up pretty good," Lott said. "He said, 'It's not a black or white issue, but a matter of doing what's best for the children.'"

Stepfret Williams, Sr. was the first of five residents that took part in the discussion.

"There is a purpose for the court order," said Williams.

"The reason I am opposed at this time, is because I feel as though our school officials over the last 40 years have not in good faith complied with the federal mandated court order," he continued. "Even though I would like to commend this board that we have here for the efforts and strides that you have made in the last year or two."

Sam Mims explained his disappointment about the school board's executive session last meeting.

"I have a definition of what good faith means," he said. "An effort made or information given or transaction done honestly without deliberate intention to defraud the other party."

According to the court order, teacher ratio of 64 percent white to 36 percent black should be followed.

"You should try to achieve the unitary status before you apply to a federal judge," Mims said. "I am all about being fair."

The Rev. Kenneth Wallace agrees with Mims that unitary status should not be reached at this time.

John Madden put to rest the question that many have asked, 'Why did he invest money in Webster Parish schools?'

"I spent almost three quarter of a million dollars of my own money because I want the kids to have a fair shake," Madden said. "Don't let this be a black and white issue. The losers of this are the kids. Don't let it get to this."

Mitchell explained to Madden the public's suspicions as to why he would invest money.

"Economies of entire nations are built on educating kids," Madden said. "I am all about the kids ... black, white, I could care less. It's the kids that don't have a voice up here. I am an advocate for the kids. I have nothing to gain by this.

"I am for unitary status, Freeman v. Pitts, allows you to get unitary in an intrical fashion," Madden continued. " Let's work this out and see what we can agree to by make a substitute motion that we can agree to, but don't handicap these kids by accepting a so-so applicant. The kids are the losers in this."

Patricia Williams told board members she is concerned that children won't get services they may need, such as Special Education, which may need to be studied more closely for qualifying children.






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