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CORRECTION: Cleveland School Board OKs alternate desegregation plan

KATE ROYALS, Mississippi Today

The Cleveland School Board is expected to begin steps Monday to raise $3.65 million to build a new 9th grade wing and make other improvements to buildings as part of its plan to desegregate the school district.

The school board called a special meeting Monday night to begin the process of borrowing money to pay for school construction through a three-mill note. The process allows the school district to levy a new property tax of up to three mills on those living within the school district.

In its plan submitted to the court, the board said it will vote Monday to begin the 3-mill note process “in anticipation of the Court’s ruling, but will not finalize the process until the Court has ruled” on its proposal.

A call to school board attorney Jamie Jacks was not immediately returned.

The district’s desegregation plan is opposed by the plaintiffs in the decades-long desegregation lawsuit. 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 school facilities 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.

The plan was met with apprehension from community members who say the buildings on the east side are newer and better able to accommodate a larger number of students. The U.S. Department of Justice rejected the district’s plan, saying it “places the entire burden of desegregation upon black students and their families.”

Sherry Shepard, a member of the Citizens in Favor of Consolidation, said the 3-mill note process is “an effort to circumvent Judge (Debra) Brown’s May 13 consolidation order and opinion. We feel the Judge Brown’s recommendations for consolidation by way of her order is the best option for the district in light of the fact that the district indicated it lacked the funding to build a new school.”

Ideas to build a new, neutral high school instead of utilizing one of the existing schools have not come to fruition.

The school board must publish the resolution for two weeks in the newspaper, which gives community members a chance to request the matter go to a vote. An election would require a petition signed by more than 20 percent of the voters in the school district.

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