Dallas Devises New 'Reward' for Voluntary Integration Transfers

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A campaign that brought several thousand more students into the Dallas school district's "majority-to-minority" exchange program this year has also brought a transportation system that parents elsewhere might well envy.

If Dallas parents drive a child to an "exchange" school in the program, the school district will pay them up to $720 per child annually for transportation costs.

The voluntary exchange program is one part of a desegregation order handed down by U.S. District Judge H. Barefoot Sanders in February 1982.

Under the program, students may transfer from a neighborhood school where they are members of a majority ethnic group to any school where their ethnic group is in the minority.

For example, a white student who attended a school with a predominantly white student population could transfer to a school where most of the students are black. School officials do not yet have statistics on the relative numbers of white and black students participating. However, in previous years, most were black students who transfered to a predominantly white high school.

The court order, however, also requires the district to provide free transportation for the students who participate in the program. This year, following a direct-mail campaign and the addition of "incentives," more than 3,000 students signed up for the exchange program, according to Rodney Davis, director of information for the school district. The incentives included special music programs for elementary schools, and stipends for high-school students to apply toward at a community college.

In previous years, Mr. Davis said, the program enrolled an average of about 1,400 students. Most were high-school students who were usually transported to the exchange schools in county-owned school buses.

This year, with the growth of the program and the addition of many elementary-school students, the district is taking multiple steps to make sure that the children arrive at their new school.

Bus Tickets Provided

If 10 or more students from one school are all transferring to the same school, the district provides a school bus. If fewer students are making the trip, and public transportation is available, the district provides them with bus tickets. If both of these methods fail, the district will pay parents 22 cents a mile for driving the children to school, according to Travis Johnson, the district's director of transportation.

And if none of these works, school officials have usually been able to figure out another way, Mr. Johnson said. In some cases, a teacher will drive a child who lives nearby. The teachers, too, will be reimbursed, although not to drive their own children to the school where they are assigned.

The system was developed, Mr. Davis said, because "it isn't economical to provide a bus to take one kid to an elementary school 20 miles away."

A state-imposed limit of $720 per child per school year restricts the total reimbursement payments, Mr. Johnson said. Also, he said, the district will not necessarily reimburse parents twice as much for driving two children. After the parent has received $720 for the first child, the district will begin distributing the second $720. Hence, a parent who transports two children for one school year may receive less than $1,440, Mr. Johnson said.

Constructing the system, Mr. Johnson said, was complicated. The transportation-staff members did not receive information on the number and whereabouts of the participating students until the middle of the week before school reopened.

So during the four days before school started, staff members drove all over Dallas, mapping out the most efficient route from one school to another. The district covers about 360 square miles, Mr. Johnson said. Parents were told that they would be reimbursed for the cost of driving by the most direct route.

Parents obtain a form from their principal on which they record their travels. At the end of each month, they return the form to the principal, who checks it against attendance records, Mr. Johnson said. The transportation office then issues reimbursement checks to parents.

Some of the students who chose to participate in the voluntary desegregation program must travel a considerable distance. One elementary-school student, for example, rides city buses 22 miles each way to his new school, transferring several times.

One elementary school in North Dallas is enrolling exchange students from 18 other elementary schools. To get them there, school officials have arranged bus pick-ups from two schools that are located relatively close to the others.

To date, although problems do occur, the system is working well, district officials say.

Funding for the program comes from the state, according to school officials. Since the court order specifies that the district must provide free transportation, however, the district could end up spending local monies if it exhausts state funds before the end of the school year. Based on participation so far this year, Mr. Johnson said, a cost overrun seems unlikely. School officials suggested that they will cross that bridge if and when they come to it.--sw

Vol. 02, Issue 05

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