Madison County Schools ordered to agree on path forward for unitary status, new high school

MADISON COUNTY, Ala. - This week, a judge asked the Madison County Schools Board of Education, US Department of Justice, and NAACP LDF to agree on a path forward for coming out from under the federal desegregation order and, on a related note, for constructing a new school.

In court documents released Wednesday, the parties appeared for a status conference this week and submitted a joint proposed scheduling order that they hope will point the way toward agreement on the path ahead.

Meanwhile, the Madison County Board of Education still has to make public progress on constructing a new high school. It has become tied to the desegregation order because the new high school needs to be balanced and zoned with care.

The school has been a point of contention in Monrovia where the school is set to be built and also in the county as a whole. The school system first set out to build a new high school in 2013. Four years later, construction still has not begun.

Superintendent Matt Massey said that in federal court this week Judge Madaline Hughes Haikala urged the school system, DOJ, and NAACP to find common ground and move ahead with a plan of action for the school.

Massey said this is a good thing because the school system is ready to move forward. He assured us he has not seen any indication of losing the $43 million in BRAC funds promised to help build the new school.

But there could be some question about how much money is needed to fully fund it before the board can move much further along.

In a meeting last February the school board heard a presentation that indicated it would cost more than the allotted $43 million to build the school originally proposed. According to the minutes, the board heard one way to stay within the budget is to decrease the size of the proposed school. The presentation cited increasing construction costs as a constant threat.

But reducing the school size and student capacity is not a popular option.

Massey said the current plan already excludes athletic facilities (which can be very expensive.)

No matter how final deadline and details shake out as the parties move toward an agreement, one thing is for sure: the new school needs to be racially, socio-economically, and geographically balanced as the school system continues to work under a federal desegregation order.

In the joint court filing, the plaintiffs and defendant agreed they want to come up with a joint consent order to outline the path to unitary status by August 31, 2018 at the latest. This, they write, would allow time for the information-gathering and meetings that are needed to complete the proposed consent order.

The document indicates they agree to meet "as soon as is practical" to negotiate.

The parties submitted this plan for the judge's consideration on August 8, 2017. According to court records, the judge had asked last month for them to be prepared to discuss deadlines and this was their answer to her order.