Saturday, April 13, 2002

Dayton may end busing


School desegregation plan debated by leaders

By James Hannah
The Associated Press

        DAYTON, Ohio — As a parent of four city public school students, Richard Melson's opinion about cross-town busing for desegregation is that it's the “wrong thing” to do.

        “The demographics do not support the notion of busing,” Mr. Melson said. “We have to have school buildings that are going to provide quality education no matter where those buildings are located.”

        The city's public school district is the only system in Ohio still under a desegregation order to achieve racial balance.

        With a federal court deadline three days away, school, state and NAACP representatives worked Friday to resolve a dispute that could end more than 25 years of cross-town busing. Without a settlement, a lawsuit will go to trial.

        “We're still working on it,” said Jessie Gooding, president of the Dayton chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

        In February 2001, the school board asked U.S. District Court Judge Walter Rice to lift the busing order. However, the NAACP, which filed the lawsuit that led to the order, said children still suffer the effects of years of segregation.

        Negotiations began but stalled in December. Mr. Rice then appointed Central State University President John Garland to mediate the talks and set a deadline of Monday for resolving the dispute.

        “Everything's moving along,” Central State spokesman Jim Cleveland said. “He's got the sides working toward a solution.”

        The city began busing students to schools across town in 1976 in response to the court's desegregation order. School board officials say they want to end busing because about 73 percent of the students in the district are black and busing them across town serves little purpose.

        In November, the NAACP agreed not to fight to keep the court order if the school district promised to invest nearly $100 million in programs to improve academic achievement.

        But the state balked at the proposal, saying the district could not afford it. The state has promised to give Dayton $32.3 million if the order is lifted in exchange for not having to make yearly payments to help with the cost of busing.

        Not all students are bused outside their neighborhoods. Students pick their first three choices of schools, and racial balance is one factor in determining where students are assigned.

        “Moving children around does not resolve the issue,” Mr. Melson said. “It doesn't address attitudes. It doesn't address the mindset individuals have.”

        He said parents should have a choice of where to send their children.

        “The rest of it will work itself out through programming and community activities,” he said.

       



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