Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Nashville schools rezoning plan passes

By JAIME SARRIO • Staff Writer (Tennessean) • July 9, 2008 The Metro Nashville Board of Education passed a massive rezoning plan Tuesday after months of emotional arguments that it would adversely affect racial balance at several schools. Supporters prevailed 5-4 in front of a packed audience. It will take effect in the 2009-10 school year and includes plans for $4 million to $6 million in enhancements for schools that will be filled mostly with poor, black students. The plan was approved after two attempts by board members to delay the vote or exclude certain schools from the rezoning. One board member, Ed Kindall, took to the podium and presented his own plan while another, George Thompson, asked some board members not to vote because of allegations that they were lobbied by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. In the end the plan passed, but concerns linger about how the district will be able to provide the promised additional resources and whether segregated schools will really be equal. "I don't think it will be funded," Kindall said after the meeting. "I think when we look at the sustainable cost, we're talking about a huge amount of money that we don't have to spend." Challenging the legality of the rezoning in court could be a next possible step, he said. The plan was drafted by a community task force, which was organized six months ago. Each board member and the mayor were permitted to pick someone to sit on the committee. 2 areas at heart of issue Changes are coming across the district, but at the heart of the issue are the Pearl-Cohn and Hillwood communities. Since desegregation, students from the predominantly black Pearl-Cohn area have been zoned to attend schools in the affluent, predominantly white Hillwood community. Some students still would have the option to attend Hillwood under the new plan, but they would technically be zoned to attend Pearl-Cohn, which will be given more money for smaller classes and additional resources. Black leaders including the NAACP spoke against the plan, and in a last-ditch effort to block new zones in those neighborhoods, board members at Tuesday's meeting asked they be excluded from the plan. The board vote was nearly divided along racial lines. Karen Johnson, who represents the Antioch area, was the only black board member who voted for the proposal. Gracie Porter, Kindall, Jo Ann Brannon and Thompson voted against the plan. "We say we want to desegregate the schools, but we need to desegregate our minds and our neighborhoods," said Lynn Green, a fourth-grade teacher at Eakin Elementary who opposed the rezoning. "We fiddle around with the children because we can, but it is the grownups that need to do the soul searching." But supporters say a rezoning was long overdue. Many of the district's schools are not full, and supporters including board Chairwoman Marsha Warden argued the district is spending millions on bricks and mortar rather than education. Chamber of Commerce President Ralph Schulz said he believes the plan will prove to stakeholders that the district is a good steward of taxpayer money.

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