Plan in Louisville Would Pay Pupils Bused Voluntarily

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Elementary-school students in Louisville, Ky., who volunteered to be bused out of their neighborhoods would be paid, under a school-district proposal to modify one of the most emotionally charged school-busing programs of the 1970's.

A plan now before the Jefferson County school board, which oversees schools in Louisville and several surrounding suburbs, calls for the district to end the involuntary busing of elementary-school students to achieve racial balance and instead to institute voluntary integration measures.

Under the proposed student-assignment plan, involuntary busing would remain in place for middle- and high-school students.

While district officials say the changes are needed for the district to comply with the landmark state education-reform law enacted last year, the state's commissioner of education disagrees that such revisions are necessary.

A report submitted to the board by Superintendent Donald W. Ingwerson said that parts of the district's current student-assignment plan are incompatible with the goals of the Kentucky Education Reform Act and that changes are needed for the sake of increased parental involvement, accountability, and other improvements.

Mr. Ingwerson had asked the board to vote on the plan on Oct. 28, but teachers' union officials and backers and opponents of the plan, including a divided black community, have asked the beard to delay its decision to give the public more of an opportunity to comment on it.

School-board members declined last week to say whether they would take action on the plan at the end of this month or vote to delay their decision.

The controversy surrounding the proposal was evident this month as hundreds of parents on both sides of the issue held separate public meetings to voice their concerns.

"They have the community more or less split," Shelby Lanier Jr., president of the Louisville branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said last week.

"Busing, as such, is just talking about a means of transportation," Mr. Lanier said. "We should be focusing on the quality of the education of our children, the quality of oar teachers, those types of things."

A History of Violence

Jefferson County is the 20th-largest school system in the nation, with approximately 93,000 students, 30 percent of whom are black.

The district's current student-assignment plan was implemented in 1975 under a desegregation order issued by U.S. District Judge James F..Gordon.

The advent of busing in the district that year was followed by an eruption of violence that drew nationwide attention.

The plan remained in place after the desegregation case was formally closed by the court in 1980, although district officials revised it slightly, without controversy, in 1984 to adjust to shifting student populations.

Currently, some 16,000 students in grades 1 to 12 district-wide are bused out of their neighborhoods each year to achieve racial balance.

District guidelines call for involuntary busing to ensure that no elementary school has an African American enrollment of less than 23 percent or more than 43 percent.

The new plan, developed by a committee of district officials and announced by Mr. Ingwerson last month, calls for students in kindergarten through 5th grade to be assigned only to schools in their neighborhoods.

The plan stipulates that no elementary school would be allowed to become more than 60 percent black, but provides for integration to take place voluntarily, through the offering of financial incentives.

Under the proposal, elementary school students would be credited with $500 for each year that they agreed to be voluntarily bused out of their neighborhoods for the sake of racial integration. The maximum of $2,500 that could be earned under the program would be available, with interest, on their graduation from high school to use to continue their education.

The proposal also calls for the relaxation of guidelines dictating the racial composition of magnet elementary, middle, and high schools. Whereas magnet schools had been required to be about 20 percent to 40 percent black, the new guidelines would allow them to be from about 15 percent to about 45 percent black.

Conflict With State Law?

A report by the district committee that developed the new student-assignment plan said the panel found "a critical and urgent need" to change assignment policies that hinder Jefferson County from implementing certain requirements of the Kentucky Education Reform Act.

The requirements of the reform act and the district's integration guidelines are especially incompatible at the elementary-school level and in the area of accountability, where the act provides for districts to be rewarded or sanctioned based on student achievement, the committee said.

Current student-assignment policies also get in the way of carrying out the reform act's calls for ungraded primary programs, programs for at-risk students, and parental-involvement efforts, the committee said.

However; State Commissioner of Education Thomas C. Boysen asserted in a memorandum this month that either the current or proposed Jefferson County plans could be made to conform with the state reform law.

Mr. Boysen said that many features of the reform law are better served if students are kept in one school, but that the development of a student-assignment plan that serves the goals of integration and education reform should be left to local school beards.

A Divided Community Georgia M. Powers, a retired state senator who has emerged as a leading opponent of the plan, last week accused Superintendent Ingwerson of seeking to push the student-assignment plan through with little community involvement and of having "no intention Of making desegregation work."

A veteran of the civil-rights movement who was on hand for the implementation of court-ordered busing in Louisville, Ms. Powers said, "I am not going to sit still and let this happen and turn back the clock."

Similar sentiments were expressed by Lyman T. Johnson, one of the plaintiffs who filed the suit in 1971 that led to the federal court order.

"For 45 years of my life, separate meant unequal," the 85-year-old Mr. Johnson said. "We think the only way to get equal accommodation is to put black and white kids together in the same facilities."

A group of black ministers and community leaders, however, held a press conference and rally this month supporting the district's efforts to change its student-assignment plan, which it criticized for busing black children out of their neighborhoods while allowing white students to attend school closer to home.

"Integration has often resulted in the disintegration of institutions in African-American neighborhoods," such as churches and community groups, said the Rev. Kevin W. Cosby, a minister at St. Stephen's Baptist Church in Louisville.

"I don't know whether we have moved forward as a result of involuntary busing, or if we have moved backward," Mr. Cosby said.

"I do know that black children must be understood holistically," he said, "and black children in urban areas need support institutions in their neighborhood."

Vol. 11, Issue 08, Pages 1, 17

Published in Print: October 23, 1991, as Plan in Louisville Would Pay Pupils Bused Voluntarily
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