Saturday, June 02, 2001

Covington weighing new school boundaries to balance racial mix

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON - Within the next week, the Covington school board is expected to decide its elementary school policy for next year, redrawing boundary lines and reopening a seventh building.

        The board meets at 9 a.m. today for a work session to review proposals from the community and district officials as to how the city's students should be divided.

        It's the first time the board has officially discussed the plans, some of which were taken to the public last month at two forums.

        The board is not expected to vote.

        “We're just going over the scenarios and trying to narrow it down,” board chairman Mike Fitzgerald said.

        Board members have said they plan to vote on a redistricting plan within the next week.

        “If we're going to do this, we've got to do it as soon as possible,” Superintendent Jack Moreland said. “The need for doing this is not going to go away.”

        Covington is redistricting in response to a state audit that spurred sweeping reform plans in the low-performing district. State officials pointed to crowding, a lack of diversity and inequities at some schools.

        Any changes, however, could affect the schools' standing under the state's accountability system.

        When schools redistrict and substantially change their student population, the state allows them to adjust their test scores. For one year, those schools receive their district's average score instead of their actual score - which could hurt some schools and help others.

        For some of Covington's lower-performing elementary schools, next year's scores could show an artificial increase. But scores could drop for schools with higher performance.

        “It may help you for one year to get rewards, but it's not a guarantee that you will get to where you need to be,” said Lisa Gross, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.

        Mr. Moreland said he was not concerned.

        “If we're providing quality services in all of our schools, we're going to be able to generate the kind of test scores we need,” he said.

        The district wants to more evenly divide its students, creating a greater racial and economic mix.

        About 27 percent of Covington's 4,500 students are minorities. However, more than half of the students at First District Elementary are black, while Latonia Elementary is nearly all white.

        School leaders want the minority population at all of the city's elementary schools to be at least 10 percent.

        Some parents have objected to the district's efforts to racially balance the schools, while others have criticized suggestions to move the district's advanced placement program from Latonia to one or more other sites.

        Plans also call for reopening Fourth District Elementary on Scott Street, a neighborhood school in a predominantly black area, that was closed in 1998.


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