Cleveland board delays desegregation vote details

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Kate Royals/Mississippi Today

East Side High School in Cleveland

Editor’s note: Mississippi Today retracted an earlier story that the Cleveland school board approved a $3.6 million proposal to fund a desegregation plan.

The Cleveland School Board on Monday did not move forward on a proposal for a three-mill tax levy to raise $3.65 million for school construction needed to implement its plan to desegregate the school district.

Following the session, board attorney Jamie Jacks said an alternate plan was adopted.

The board voted 4 to 1, with board member Tonya Short voting nay, on the alternate plan, James said. The public will be informed of details within 48 hours, she said.

Jacks declined to provide details of the action taken.

In an email to Mississippi Today requesting that an earlier version of this story be retracted, Jacks said, “The new plan actually calls for no new taxes or construction.”

The special board meeting had been called to discuss a long-standing federal desegregation lawsuit involving the Cleveland school district.

Jacks said the school board was withholding information because it first wanted to give the new plan to the plaintiffs in the school desegregation lawsuit and the Department of Justice. Department of Justice officials declined to comment.

The district’s desegregation plan originally filed with the court is opposed by the plaintiffs. The plan proposes combining the majority-black East Side High with Cleveland High, along with consolidating the majority-black D.M. Smith Middle with Margaret Green Junior High. None of the schools on the majority-black east side of town would be used, while the buildings on the west side of town would require expansion and improvements.

That plan would require $3.6 million to add a 9th grade wing to Margaret Green Junior High, in addition to other facility improvements, school officials have said.

Cleveland resident and Citizens for Consolidation member Sherry Shepard said Monday night following the meeting that she and her group will move forward with efforts to ensure that any proposed tax increase be voted on by the general public.

“We don’t trust anything from the board, because they have proven time and time again that they lack integrity,” Shepard said. “Whatever this alternate means of obtaining the money to build this wing onto Margaret Green Jr. High, we are still of the same opinion and position that the best plan to consolidate our school district is the one proposed by Judge (Debra) Brown on May 13.”

Brown supported assigning all 9th through 12th graders to a single high school in the current Cleveland High and Margaret Green facilities, both on the west side of town, and using East Side High School as a middle school for the majority of the district’s 6th through 8th graders.

“It’s wrong if it’s a tax increase, it’s wrong if they have a donor put that money over there,” she said. “It’s wrong any way you put it.”

The district’s desegregation plan has been met with apprehension from community members who say the buildings on the east side of Cleveland are newer and better able to accommodate a larger number of students.

The U.S. Department of Justice has rejected the district’s desegregation plan, saying it “places the entire burden of desegregation upon black students and their families.”

School officials had indicated prior to Monday’s meeting that they wanted to start the process for securing a three-mill tax increase, which can be brought to a vote through a challenge petition.