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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

School Choice lawsuit raises questions, concerns

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

18 out-of-district students who applied to attend Salem schools this fall have been accepted -- despite a federal judge's decision tossing out the 1989 Arkansas School Choice law.

"Since the judge issued a stay of his ruling, we will operate under the current law, at least until appeals are decided," Salem Superintendent Ken Rich told The News.

Under the school choice law, students can seek to transfer from their home district to a neighboring district they feel better meets their needs. U.S. District Judge Robert Dawson overturned the school choice law, barring transfers between districts because, in some cases, transfers are decided solely on the applicant's race, and the racial makeup of the school district.

Dawson was asked, however, to delay issuing a final order putting his ruling into effect, until appeals were decided. Because a number of groups indicated they would file appeals, Dawson agreed to hold up. Ironically, the plaintiffs who filed the original lawsuit are among those planning an appeal. The parents who filed the lawsuit wanted to end the use of race in deciding school transfers, but did not want the whole law struck down.

Many parents whose children had been approved for school transfers were concerned about where they would attend school next school year, after hearing the law had been struck down. Other parents wondered if students approved for transfers in years past would have to return to their home schools or would be "grandfathered" in.

"We normally get 12 to 14 school choice transfers a year, so we received a few more than usual," Rich said. The deadline to seek a school transfer was July 1.

Rich discussed the developments in the school choice court ruling at the June meeting of the Salem School Board. After hearing the law would remain in effect, at least for now, the board approved the 18 transfer requests Salem schools had received.

In other business, the board learned Salem students received high marks in the most recent state Benchmark exams.

"92 percent of students tested (grades three to eight) were proficient in literacy, and 90 percent were proficient in math," Rich said. "Those results are well above the state average."

The results should continue to put Salem Schools among the top 25 districts in the state when it comes to math and literacy testing.

Fifth graders and seventh graders who were tested for science knowledge produced mixed results.

94 percent of the fifth graders were proficient in science, while only 52 percent of seventh graders scored proficient or above.

"The two grades together produce a 73 percent average, which is still above the state average," Rich said, "but we will continue to focus next year on improving seventh grade scores in science and biology,"

The school district will have more testing information available by the annual public meeting the board will hold in September.

During the June meeting, the school board approved a $36,846 contract for a Jonesboro company to replace all of the interior doors in the high school with solid wood doors, which can be locked from inside the classroom.

According to the Superintendent, doors that can be locked from the inside improve the safety of students if an intruder ever entered the school, and are a requirement of the ADA -- Americans with Disabilities Act.

The 44 interior doors currently in place are a mixture of painted metal doors that scratch easily and have to be repainted, and hollow core wood doors that are not sturdy.

The new solid wood doors will be stained, and should be more durable and attractive.

The board also passed an estimated 2013-2014 budget, as required by law. According to Rich, the budget will not require any millage increase, so taxes will remain the same. If two improvement projects are approved, an estimated $300,000 will be taken from the building fund during the budget cycle.

The school system hopes to be approved for state funding assistance to replace the heating and air conditioning systems in the schools, and construct an addition to add space to the high school band room.

The total cost of those projects is estimated at $1.5 million. If approved for funding assistance, the district would have to pay 30 percent of the cost.

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