AMITE — Tangipahoa Parish School Board members voted Wednesday to authorize their attorneys to “iron out” details of a proposed compromise in the district’s 46-year-old desegregation lawsuit.
The settlement, reached late last week just before a motion hearing before a federal judge, has not been finalized, board attorney Charles Patin said.
Patin and attorney Ashley Sandage, who also represents the School Board, would sit down with plaintiffs’ attorneys Nelson Taylor and James Gray to hammer out the final wording for presentation to the board for approval, Patin said.
If the board agrees to the proposal, it would go to the judge in a joint motion urging its adoption, Patin said.
“I think this compromise gives both parties something that they can take home,” Patin said.
The board approved the motion by a 6-2 margin, with members Sandra Bailey-Simmons and Eric Dangerfield voting no.
“I was under the impression that there would be a vote later on the plan again, so I want to register my objection,” said Bailey-Simmons, who represents Loranger. “This affects 560 kids in my district.”
Under the compromise, three new elementary schools would be built, and children from the Loranger area would be sent to new schools nearer to Hammond and Amite.
“I just wasn’t ready to vote on it yet,” Dangerfield said. But he may vote yes on the final wording of the motion, Dangerfield added.
Other School Board members said they sympathized with Bailey-Simmons, but that the board had no choice but to support the compromise.
“I represent the same area (as Bailey-Simmons) and there are some things we can do and some things we can’t,” said Gail Pittman McDaniel. “If the judge has ordered it, he’s ordered it.”
One board member lashed out at critics who have accused the board of intentionally harming communities.
“Quit bashing the board for doing something to intentionally destroy communities. We are not doing that,” said Board President Rose Dominguez.
The proposal retains the basic structure of the agreement that the court approved in March 2010, but removes the parts that would have necessitated new taxes.
The parish’s voters rejected by historic margins in the April 30 election four tax proposals submitted by the board to gain funds needed to institute the original desegregation plan.
“If the board were to vote against this (compromise), it would be tantamount to asking the court to impose an additional 29.5 mills and 1-cent sales tax,” Patin said.
In the compromise proposal, plaintiffs’ motions for sanctions on the School Board and superintendent of schools are withdrawn, as is a motion to force the School Board to implement the full court-approved plan, Patin said.
In addition, the board is granted conditional unitary status in extracurricular activities, agrees to build the three new schools and make improvements to Kentwood High School as well as the new O.W. Dillon Elementary School in Kentwood, Patin said.