Murphy Unveils Plan To End Forced Busing in Charlotte

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John A. Murphy, the superintendent of the Charlotte-Mecklenberg, N.C., public schools, has proposed that the district end its forced busing program and establish several new magnet schools.

Asserting that the district's current busing program results in "a disproportionate amount of busing for young black students," Mr. Murphy said he had asked a consultant to develop a new pupil-assignment plan "more in keeping with the desires of the community."

In public hearings on the plan last week, however, some African-American parents expressed fears that the proposed plan would resegregate schools or again place the burden for integration on black children.

Kathleen R. Crosby, a former principal in the district, called the plan "very unfair and insensitive."

Because the plan would place magnet schools in predominantly black neighborhoods, she said, some children in those neighborhoods would be forced to go to more distant schools to make room for white students who voluntarily had transferred.

The proposal "was not as I had expected because we had made a lot of gains in Charlotte," Ms. Crosby said.

George E. Battle Jr., one of two black school-board members and the chairman of the board, expressed similar concerns.

While calling the plan "excellent," Mr. Battle said the district must avoid "one-way busing" of black students who live near but who do not enroll in the magnet schools.

Agreeing with the superintendent's assertion that black students are burdened under the current system, James E. Ferguson II, a lawyer who represented the plaintiffs in the district's landmark desegregation case, said, nonetheless, that the proposed plan is "fraught with far too many inequities and dangers" to be adopted without major changes.

A report in The Charlotte Observer characterized the debate at one public hearing on the plan last week as "intense," with most white parents for it and most blacks against it.

But Mr. Murphy, who developed a nationally recognized system of magnet schools during his tenure as superintendent of the Prince George's County, Md., schools before moving to North Carolina last year, said last week that he was "surprised by the positiveness" of almost all of the comments on the plan.

"I am very excited about this proposal because it offers a voluntary plan of assignment which empowers parents," Jan S. Richards, a school board member, said, adding that "busing did not equate to excellence."

Mr. Murphy said he planned to revise the plan in response to the public comments.

Magnet School Proposed

The Charlotte-Mecklenberg schools were the focus of a landmark 1974 U.S. Supreme Court decision holding that a federal court had remained within its powers in ordering the district, three years before, to bus children to remedy the school segregation once required by state law.

The district currently buses 12,000 of its 77,900 students in an effort to desegregate its schools.

The author of the new proposal, Michael J. Stolee, a professor of administrative leadership at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, described the current plan and its implementation as "the cause of justifiable pride."

But, Mr. Stolee said, in general, the nation's successful new desegregation programs "have been based more on voluntarism than on mandates."

Mr. Stolee described his proposed plan as designed to foster educational excellence, maintain racial balance, distribute good schools throughout the county, and shorten bus rides. He called for the plan to be phased in over five years.

The proposal calls for an end to the "pairing" of elementary schools for racial balance and would establish new magnet schools with no admissions requirements and enrollments ideally maintained at 40 percent black and 60 percent white.

If magnet schools received too many applications, the plan calls for students who live within walking distance to be given priority and then a lottery to fill the remaining slots.

The plan also calls for non-magnet high schools to operate specialty programs that would help attract an integrated student body.

Vol. 11, Issue 24, Page 5

Published in Print: March 4, 1992, as Murphy Unveils Plan To End Forced Busing in Charlotte
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