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Quotas proposal greeted coolly

Kelli Bailey, 12, is a desegregation statistic.

She is one of 50 black pupils who are bused from the Greenwood area of Clearwater to Carwise Middle School in Palm Harbor because a federal court has decreed that a certain number of black students need to be at each school in Pinellas County.

"I'm the only black student in two of my classes," Kelli said. "In the others, there's only two of us. It feels lonely."

She added, "I want to go back" to Clearwater schools. "I feel more comfortable there. There are more blacks."

Kelli's situation and that of other black students has resulted in a draft proposal that would transform the profile of Pinellas schools.

A task force the School Board appointed in April to study busing for desegregation drafted a recommendation Thursday that the court order be changed.

One of those changes _ to eliminate student ratios based on race in schools north of Ulmerton Road _ would mean Kelli could go to a school closer to home.

But it also would mean some schools in north county would be essentially white.

A proposal to open enrollment would make Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg virtually all black.

A third suggestion to make St. Petersburg's Lakewood High School into a "neighborhood school," would create a majority black school.

The remaining recommendation would make racial quotas in the southern part of the county more flexible.

Although the plan has supporters in the community, the specter of returning segregation has set off alarms.

"Here we go again," civil rights activist Perkins Shelton said Friday. "I've been around long enough to know if there are any white schools and any black schools where the funding is going to go."

Garnelle Jenkins, president of the NAACP, St. Petersburg branch, agreed, saying, "Nothing is equal, and I'm not going to even buy that. There's no such thing as separate but equal."

Added William Cummings, a Clearwater businessman: "We know from history that separate but equal means unequal for somebody."

Cummings serves on the school district's biracial committee, which will meet with the task force to discuss the proposal before it is presented to the School Board in April. The biracial committee was created by the court order to help monitor desegregation. The court ultimately will decide whether to amend the order.

Adelle Vaughn Jemison, a task force member who supports the proposal, repeatedly has questioned the assumption that all-black schools are inferior.

She has reminisced about a time when all-black schools were staffed by all-black faculties who knew their students, served as role models and cared deeply about students' success.

"Those days are gone forever," counters Shelton, referring to the days when schools served only the immediate neighborhood. If the problem is that children are not being educated, he said, "segregation will not cure it. If that's the problem, I say, attack that problem, work on it from the inside."

Pat Zachem, former president of the Lakewood Civic Association, likes the proposal. She said she is distressed that white students from her neighborhood can attend Lakewood High whereas many black students from the same neighborhood are bused elsewhere so racial caps at the school aren't exceeded.

"It's becomes such a hardship on families, on students themselves," she said. "It's very divisive itself."

Board member Linda Lerner said she likes the plan.

She particularly liked the task force's focus on the busing of black children. Usually, she said, people pay attention to the 5 percent of whites who are bused for desegregation rather than the 60 percent of blacks.

Perhaps predictably, the strongest support for the task force's proposal comes from members of an informal committee who suggested many of the same solutions in late 1992. Task force member Jemison also served on the informal committee.

The work of that informal committee as well as busing protests by other groups pushed the School Board to appoint the task force.

"It appears that several of the things we had discussed in our sort of think tank's atmosphere had merit," said Lou Brown, a St. Petersburg real estate agent.

He cautioned that creating all-black and all-white schools would have to be monitored carefully. Going back to "separate but equal" is not the goal, Brown said.

Earnest Williams, also a member of the informal committee, said, "I want to see them move to the next level." That, he said, is ensuring a quality education.

Williams may get his wish. The task force is still debating whether to recommend that the court oversee whether students are getting an equal education.

_ Staff writer Monica Yant contributed to this report, as did information from Times files.

PLAN DRAFTED BY THE ZONING TASK FORCE

Preamble

For the past year, the Zoning Task Force has been meeting to fulfill the charge given to us by the School Board. The task force appointed by the School Board of Pinellas County was commissioned to analyze potential strategies and obstacles associated with minimizing the impact of forced busing and maximizing parent/student choice compared with the limitations currently imposed by the federal court order.

While the mission statement provided by the Board reflected the intent to structure limits within which the task force would focus its attention, members persistently identified the impossibility of concentrating solely upon an examination of busing and zoning concerns without considering quality of education issues.

We held public hearings at diverse locations throughout Pinellas County where we received testimony from individuals and community representatives. We met with Pinellas County evaluation specialists to review student achievement data; we learned about Blueprint 2000, Florida's plan to restructure our public education system; and we discussed the zoning strategies given to us by the School Board.

In 1994, the district is at the point of having to make crucial decisions with far-reaching ramifications for the future of its youth. For many reasons, changes are imperative; however, special care must be taken that all populations to be affected by the results of potential changes will be equally benefited.

Based on the information we received from these sessions and our group deliberations, we are proposing the following strategies to the School Board for its consideration.

Preamble to the Pinellas Compact

Based on the testimony we received, the task force has concluded that some members of our community do not trust the school district and, consequently, do not believe the school district is capable of ensuring that all students have an equal opportunity to meet high academic standards. The task force has also concluded that the school district is not capable of providing all students with an equal opportunity to meet high academic standards without the cooperation and support of our community. As a result of these findings, the task force developed the Pinellas Compact. The Pinellas Compact is a statement of philosophy and commitment designed to unite the School District and community into a partnership that will enable all students to meet high learning standards.

The Pinellas Compact

Based on a foundation of mutual trust and respect, our school district and community have high expectations for all students, provide an equal opportunity for all students to meet these high expectations and measure our progress toward providing equal opportunity for all students by assessing student learning. It is the mission of the Pinellas County School District to ensure accountability for the educational achievement of its students. The school district employees, community organizations, businesses and individuals who enter into the Pinellas Compact agree to work together in good faith to achieve these objectives. In the process of working toward the spirit of this compact, we assure the community the school system will never revert to pre-1971 segregated, unequal conditions.

Preamble to proposed changes to the current court order

All the evidence presented to the task force suggests that black students and their parents have borne the heaviest burden of the court order. Many black students are bused to schools miles from their homes for 13 consecutive years, making it difficult for their parents to be actively involved in these students' education. This diminished parent involvement makes it harder for some black students to meet high academic standards. The task force thinks that all students, regardless of race, ethnicity, economic class or gender, benefit when they are educated in schools close to their homes. In addition, the task force is also committed to ensuring that all students are educated in a multicultural environment that teaches students how to get along with people from diverse ethnic, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. These beliefs and our commitment to the Pinellas Compact lead the task force to make these suggestions for how the court order may be amended.

1. Eliminating the North County minimum and maximum ratios;

2. Allowing Gibbs High School to have open enrollment;

3. Returning Lakewood High School to a "neighborhood" school; and

4. Increasing flexibility of south county ratios.

Since the School Board and Bi-Racial Advisory Committee cannot know with certainty which of these options will best allow the school district and community to achieve the objectives in the Pinellas Compact, the community must understand that any changes made to the court order will be done on a pilot basis and may be changed if the pilot is unsuccessful. For example, if after four years, we find that allowing Gibbs High School to become an open enrollment school leads to greater disparity in white and black student achievement, the School Board and Bi-Racial Advisory Committee will need to abandon that option and try another strategy.

Process improvements that do not involve changes to the court order

The task force identified several strategies that do not require amending the court order but could assist the school district and community in achieving the Pinellas Compact. These proposals include (1) recruiting, hiring, retaining and promoting more black employees in classroom and administrative positions; (2) more and better preschool interventions; (3) "full-service" programs available to all schools with high concentration of low-income students; (4) more employee training in multicultural sensitivity; (5) increased availability of activity buses for students who are being bused long distances; (6) the scheduling of SAC and PTA meetings in "satellite" neighborhoods at times that are convenient for working parents; (7) training employees in the importance of having high expectations for all students and how to properly assess these higher standards; (8) identifying barriers to equal access and their sources that impede school adjustment and performance; (9) developing and disseminating an historical description of desegregation efforts in Pinellas County; (10) improving the district's ability to verify student residency; and (11) aggressively seeking community understanding of, and commitment to, the Pinellas Compact; and (12) open enrollment that includes a parent contract at Gibbs High.

The task force recognizes that the school district has already adopted some of the process improvements and that others will require study and pilot testing. The public should be educated about alternative forms of voting that could increase the probability of a black being elected to the School Board.

We encourage the School Board to adopt those processes that prove to be effective in helping the district and community achieve the Pinellas Compact.

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