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Local NAACP objects to schools agreement

ST. PETERSBURG — A proposed legal agreement regarding black students in Pinellas County is getting harsh criticism from an unexpected source: the St. Petersburg NAACP.

The agreement is too vague on what strategies will be used to boost black student achievement or how those strategies will be funded, NAACP president Ray Tampa said Wednesday.

"We want to attach a sense of urgency to the matter, and we want more specifics," Tampa said in an interview. "We need some bold, new initiatives. And there's nothing new here."

The agreement is the latest development in Bradley vs. the Pinellas County School Board, the 45-year-old lawsuit that spurred the integration of Pinellas schools. The district and the plaintiffs signed off on it June 26, and the Pinellas County School Board is expected to approve it next week.

The agreement requires the district to offer more detailed plans for boosting black student performance, to more equitably fund those programs and to hold school-level officials accountable for progress.

Superintendent Julie Janssen said longer school days, smaller classes and more focus on teacher quality are among the possibilities. But the specifics won't become clear until schools rewrite their improvement plans, which are due in September.

Roger Plata, co-counsel for the plaintiffs, said concrete strategies were suggested by both sides during mediation. But the plaintiffs wanted to give schools leeway to see what works and what doesn't.

"We don't want to get into where they do a dog-and-pony show and say we've got the ABC program," Plata said. "We don't want them to lock into one (strategy). We want them to be fluid enough and flexible enough" to adjust if necessary.

Tampa suggested more summer school, more tutoring and more programs aimed at involving and educating parents. He also offered a model: the Academy Prep private school in St. Petersburg, known for its 10-hour day, emphasis on character education and college-bound graduates. Both Plata and School Board chairwoman Peggy O'Shea said they can understand Tampa's skepticism.

"Is there a fear that here we go again? Absolutely," Plata said.

"It takes a long time for that (doubt) to change," O'Shea said. "We just have to take it each day and see how it progresses."

Tampa's criticism comes as the local NAACP seeks to rejoin a debate where it was once a central player. For years, it was closely involved with the desegregation case, which was led by the national NAACP's Legal Defense and Educational Fund. But lately, it has put more focus on other priorities.

During the mediation — which continues on other issues regarding black students — another community group, the Concerned Organizations for Quality Education for Black Students, acted as advisers to the plaintiffs' attorneys. But for future talks, Tampa said the local NAACP will again have representatives at the table.

"We cannot continue to wait and allow these negotiations to continue at a snail's pace when our kids are failing at a meteoric pace," he said.

Ron Matus can be reached at matus@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8873.

Local NAACP objects to schools agreement 07/22/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 23, 2009 6:36am]
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