Louisville Board Approves Plan To Decrease Busing

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Louisville, Ky., school officials have approved a new student-assignment plan that emphasizes school reform at the expense of efforts to achieve desegregation.

The Jefferson County school board, which governs schools in Louisville and several surrounding suburbs, last month voted 5 to 1 to approve new policies that would drastically curtail involuntary busing so that children could attend neighborhood schools.

The changes were necessary, argued Superintendent Donald W. Ingwerson, because the district's current busing program interferes with efforts to increase parental involvement and bring about other school improvements mandated under Kentucky's landmark education-reform law.

"When the Kentucky Education Reform Act was passed, it caused us to rethink the way we were doing some things," Allen D. Rese, the outgoing chairman of the Jefferson County board, said last week.

"This never was, in our minds, a question of segregation and desegregation," Mr. Rose said. "It goes back to accountability, equity, and parental involvement."

But civil-rights leaders complain that the district acted too hastily on the student-assignment plan, which Mr. Ingwerson announced on the morning of Dec. 19 and the board approved later that day.

State Senator Gerald A. Neal, who urged the district board to delay its decision, said last week that board members seemed "hell-bent to reach the conclusion of their design" and had eroded public trust with their quick decision.

The new plan "has caused the demise of desegregation in Jefferson County schools," asserted Georgia M. Powers, a former state senator who serves as president of Quality Education for All Students, or QUEST, a local advocacy group.

"I object to the whole process and the whole plan," Ms. Powers said.

Incentive Plan Dropped

Jefferson County currently enrolls 93,000 students, of whom 30 percent are black.

As a result of one of the most emotionally charged desegregation battles of the 1970's, the district for the past 15 years has used involuntary busing to keep any elementary school from becoming less than 23 percent or more than 43 percent black. Similar policies are in place at the middle and high-school levels.

Last September, Mr. Ingwerson proposed allowing elementary schools to become up to 60 percent black and integrating them voluntarily through an unusual financial incentive program under which students would receive $500 for each year that they agreed to be bused for racial balance. (See Education Week, Oct. 23, 1991 .)

The quotas in that proposal, which remained the focus of public debate throughout the fall, were opposed by civil-rights groups as allowing too much racial isolation.

The Jefferson County Teachers Association, meanwhile, opposed the financial-incentive program as unconstitutional and questioned where funding for the incentives would come from.

The plan approved last month did not include the controversial financial-incentive program. In what was seen as a compromise, the measure also provided that no school be allowed to be less than 15 percent or more than 50 percent black.

The revised plan called for integration to take place voluntarily, by giving parents a choice of schools and using magnet programs and other academic offerings to entice students to schools where they are in the racial minority. Involuntary busing would be used only if and where voluntary programs failed.

The revised plan also called for schools to implement special "immersion programs," such as voluntary, short-term exchange programs bringing students to schools where they are in the racial minority, or uniting students from different races and schools for projects outside the classroom.

Stability, Participation Stressed

In a memo outlining the revised student-assignment plan, Mr. Ingwerson said the changes were needed to promote stability, parental participation, accountability, and the use of appropriate academic programs--reforms advocated by many educators and mandated by the state's 1990 reform law.

In particular, Mr. Ingwerson said, involuntary busing impedes the district from implementing a reform requirement for nongraded K-3 classes. (See Education Week, June 19, 1991.)

The frequent transfer of students under the involuntary-busing program "prevents teachers and counselors from establishing as strong a professional relationship as they could with each child," Mr. Ingwerson said.

The involuntary-busing plan also has frustrated the district's efforts to target resources where they are needed, the superintendent said.

Mr. Ingwerson asserted that he considered public input carefully in drafting his final recommendations.

Luvern L. Cunningham, a consultant to the district on public opinion, said black residents favored the old student-assignment plan more than did whites. But, he added, both groups were united in their deep concern over "whether youngsters, black or white, would be able to be employed when they finished high school."

Slow Formal Response

Because the revised assignment plan was approved shortly before the holidays, civil-rights groups have been slow in mounting a formal response.

Stephen T. Porter, a lawyer and a member of QUEST'S litigation committee, said he and others are studying the plan to determine if it can be challenged in court.

The changes also are being opposed by the Fair Housing Council, while officials of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said they would oppose the plan until they are convinced that it will improve the education of black students.

Vol. 11, Issue 17, Page 5

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