Alternate offered to replace JCPS student assignment plan

Gary Orfield
Gary Orfield

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Many people think the Jefferson County Public Schools student assignment plan needs an overhaul. A plan was unveiled Monday night that could lead to those changes.

Is it possible to keep diversity while cutting down on those long JCPS bus rides? Gary Orfield, a UCLA professor, has been trying to answer that question since last October when the school board asked him to look at the controversial student assignment plan.

"Their responsibility is to make policy for the future of this city," Orfield said of the JCPS School Board.

After a year of study, the UCLA education and law professor politely told the JCPS board its policy on student assignment needs a major overhaul.

Orfield recommends ending the current plan of six elementary clusters, opting instead to create 13 smaller clusters still using race, income and education to bring together children from the nearest possible diverse neighborhoods. He contends the plan would better serve parents and students by cutting out those long commutes.

"I think they will have good choices for diverse schools that are closer to home," Orfield told reporters after his presentation.

When asked by JCPS board member Carol Haddad how his plan would change bus ride times, Orfield answered that the rides would be "less than half of the longest ride times now."

Orfield's presence comes at an interesting time. He was hired after the first day busing snafu in the 2010 school year that left some students not making it home until 9 p.m.

Just last month, a three judge Kentucky Court of Appeals panel grilled the school district's lawyer who argued against neighborhood schools. That panel indicated it may be on the verge of throwing out the current student assignment plan. During the hearing Judge Michael Caperton scolded the school district's lawyer, "I've not heard a reason so far, as to why we want to bus them around the county and how that helps the general education and welfare and the health of the students."

While the district waits on that ruling, reporters asked Orfield how long implementation of his plan, if accepted, would take. Orfield said if the district really wants change it could happen by next school year.

"Whenever you change something in the school system, you get blamed by some people," said Orfield. "So it takes some courage to do this and what we're saying is if you put it off, it doesn't get better, the problem just gets more complicated as a matter of fact."

Orfield told the board the bus transportation system also needs to be modernized so parents can look at it on a computer when trying to choose their child's school.

Teddy Gordon, the attorney representing parents who want to throw out the student assignment plan, issued the following statement which called the study a waste of taxpayer money.

"How much more is JCPS going to rearrange the deck chairs on this Titanic?  The student assignment plan sank years ago for good reason; it does not work in improving the education for any child in Louisville. Furthermore, the amount of taxpayer's money that JCPS has wasted on these malarky studies could have been used to hire more qualified teachers."

School board members thanked Orfield for the plan, saying they had many questions and needed to thoroughly study it in the coming days.

To read Orfield's report, just click on the link below.

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