West: More info needed on plan

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 6, 1999

State Rep. Phillip West said he needs more details on a plan by the Natchez-Adams County School District to reduce school-crowding.

&uot;I can’t be against something or for something (when) I don’t know what the facts are,&uot; said West (D-Natchez).

West is one of several plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit, that led a 1989 integration court order. The order binds the Natchez school district to only operate the schools now open.

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Despite the district’s plan — which includes reopening Braden School, on Homochitto Street, — the plaintiffs must approve of the change.

If they don’t, the district’s only recourse is to litigate the issue.

&uot;Something’s got to be done to look at our school system and evaluate what’s happened since 1989,&uot; said Terry Estes, school board president.

Even though officials claim the schools are overcrowded, – Morgantown and McLaurin&160;elementary schools each has about 1,000 students, West said he also needs details on that subject.

&uot;I don’t know if there is overcrowding, first of all,&uot; West said.

In 1989, the lawsuit said the designated schools could accommodate the students and that population hasn’t (changed) to his knowledge, West said.

The proposal includes turning Braden School into a K-6 elementary school. It also includes turning West and Frazier primary schools and Morgantown and McLaurin elementary schools into K-6 grade schools while maintaining a racial balance.

As it is now, kindergartners and first-graders go to the primary schools and second through sixth-graders go to the elementary schools.

But district officials think these young students will do better if they didn’t have to switch schools during their early years — a crucial time in education.

&uot;If you don’t catch them in pre-kindergarten (or) kindergarten through sixth-grade, you’ve lost them,&uot; Estes said. Under the proposed plan &uot;they could flow right through without any interruption.&uot;

Smaller schools also have less discipline problems and a better student-staff relationship, officials said. The school board met with the plaintiffs last year to discuss plans to improve the district.

West plans to visit the schools, but said he is still waiting for the district to provide him with more data.

&uot;Thus far there has been no serious attempt to talk to me as a plaintiff&uot; about these facts, West said.

Estes said the board will schedule another meeting with the plaintiffs if that will help.

&uot;(Hopefully) if the plaintiffs would like to meet with us we would love to meet with them,&uot; he said.

Although the district does not have a time line in mind, eventually it may consider litigating the issue.

&uot;We can’t keep putting it off,&uot;&160;Estes said. &uot;We are going to actively pursue doing something to the school system to make it better.&uot;

The other lawsuit plaintiffs are West’s wife Carolyn, George &uot;Shake&uot; and Deborah Harden and Lonnie and Carolyn Nichols.