Pulaski County Special School District Superintendent Jerry Guess should keep authority over desegregation matters in the Jacksonville/North Pulaski County School District, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
Guess is responsible for areas in the desegregation lawsuit in which the two districts are not yet unitary, including facilities, student achievement, staffing and discipline. He said he should retain his authority over these matters until Jacksonville is fully independent in the 2016- 2017 school year.
“I think there can really only be one person responsible for those issues. Not to say that Jacksonville’s role isn’t important. I think what that simply means is we have to work together to agree. It’s my ultimate responsibility to be sure those obligations outline in the desegregation program are met. I am humbled by that responsibility and the judge’s words,” Guess said after the hearing.
The judge requested all parties in the decades-old desegregation case submit new briefs by the end of the month on proposed changes to an existing agreement between the districts that could shift Jacksonville’s authority in determining a facilities plan required by February of 2016.
Scott Richardson, an attorney for the new district said Jacksonville should have final say on facilities issues now.
“The facilities piece is the most critical one right now because we have these deadlines that have to be met very soon in order to set the trajectory for the district for the next three years for what its facilities will look like,” he said.
Attorney John Walker of the Joshua Interveners, which represents minority students in the case, wants the PCSSD to maintain control over Jacksonville facilities in the interim period. He believes Jacksonville leadership would engage in discriminatory hiring of construction firms, and racially-based school site location practices if given free reign.
“When you hire the same people to do the work and its only three or four of them who go from school to school, and they don’t have black people on their boards of directors that are integrally involved in the of facilities, I am very concerned because that appears to be racially discriminatory,” said Walker.
The Jacksonville/North Pulaski County School District was created by popular vote last November.