New Board Members in Wausau Ditch Controversial Busing Scheme

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The Wausau, Wis., school board has discarded a controversial busing program that had divided the community and triggered the recall of several former members.

The board, most of whose nine members had run for office as recall candidates, overwhelmingly voted this month to scrap the busing program and its unusual goal of more evenly distributing low-income students, regardless of race.

The board appeared, however, not to have abandoned the busing plan's second unusual goal: dispersing the district's large numbers of limited-English-proficient Southeast Asian children.

The board touted its new compromise plan as likely to please both those who have sought to integrate the district's overwhelmingly Hmong minority population and those who have championed neighborhood schools.

The only dissenting vote was the board's only Hmong member, Ya M. Yang.

"We think it is a step toward healing this community,'' said Berland A. Meyer, the assistant superintendent for instruction for the Wausau school district.

The student-assignment plan that the board abandoned had paired three schools with heavily Southeast Asian, low-income populations with three schools that had mostly white, middle-class enrollments. The objective was to make classrooms more diverse and to provide relief to teachers in schools with enrollments that were heavily poor and minority.

Protests and Compromise

The plan's implementation last fall led to the busing of 600 students and reduced minority concentrations in the schools involved from 50 percent or more to no more than 32 percent of any school's enrollment. It also led to protests from parents and the trouncing of five of the plan's backers on the board in recall elections last winter. (See Education Week, Jan. 12, 1994.)

The new plan returns the district to having neighborhood schools but reshuffles attendance zones slightly to distribute limited-English-proficient students, who will account for between 21 percent and 46 percent of the enrollments of schools near their homes.

The plan also calls for the creation of a magnet program for gifted-and-talented children in one school that is heavily minority.

Scott R. Williams, the president of the school board, last week said the plan addresses the needs of L.E.P. children but "will bring closure to the neighborhood schools-partner schools controversy.''

Mr. Yang, however, questioned whether the plan will bring any real integration to classrooms.

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