by Max Brantley
The settlement of the Pulaski school desegregation case exempted the three school districts in the county from redrawing school board zones as long as the districts were under federal court supervision. Little Rock has been released and will be redrawing boundaries this year based on new Census data.
A 2001 law required that districts rezone within 180 days after release from court supervision. Did Judge Brian Miller's unexpected — and somewhat strange — ruling yesterday put this law into play, somebody asked? I'd think not. He declared North Little Rock and Pulaski districts unitary in some respects, but not in others. Sounds like supervision will continue, if not any state money.
The Pulaski district, particularly, needs to be redrawn to reflect considerable shifts in population. The Pulaski district's continuation in its current doughnut form, with scattered pockets of dense population separated by vast stretches of either little development or other school districts, is also a subject worth serious debate. But I'm not sure either of the adjoining school districts would be interested. They have troubles enough without getting a share of that district's woes.
The most interesting development to come will be when Miller is made to address the enormous questions he created by his sweeping end to state desegregation support, an outcome that hadn't been mentioned in weeks of preliminary testimony. Did he mean to end interdistrict magnet schools, a generally productive element of schools here for 25 years? Did he mean to override state law on financial support for teachers' health benefits? In his zeal to declare state funding a waste of money, he doesn't seem to have considered very carefully the many working parts of this complicated deal, some meritorious. Perhaps he'll give the districts a chance to talk about them after the fact.