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    Schools pushed on race ratios

    Officials are warned to honor the agreement, even if it means ignoring a perk for teachers.

    By STEPHEN HEGARTY, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 4, 2003


    The lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund has warned the Pinellas school district that it should live up to its agreement on race ratios in schools, even if it means some teachers might not get special consideration for where their children attend school.

    In a letter to School Board attorney John Bowen on Monday, attorney Enrique Escarraz wrote that he would oppose an amendment to the plan that retreats from the maintenance of race ratios.

    At issue is an amendment referred to as "professional courtesy preference" that would allow teachers to get their children into a school where they teach.

    In many cases, the district probably will be able to honor the requests from teachers. The question is what to do if honoring the requests would change a school's racial makeup.

    The School Board is scheduled to vote on the matter at its next meeting on Feb. 11.

    "The idea that they want to attract more teachers and keep teachers happy is a fine idea," Escarraz said on Monday. He said he hopes the district can accommodate teachers who need special consideration. But not at the expense of maintaining racial controls.

    "They're saying "What if we can't accommodate everyone we want to accommodate,' " Escarraz said. "Well, we have an agreement."

    The agreement, which was about three years in the making, enabled the district to end a three-decades-old federal court desegregation order. Under the deal and the school choice plan that grew out of it, parents let the district know where they want their child attending school. When possible, the district will give them their choice. The agreement, however, requires that the schools remain racially desegregated for a transition period. Soon, perhaps next month, the district will start notifying parents about whether they got their choice of schools.

    Escarraz said Monday he supports the district's attempts at fulfilling the wishes of teachers and families as they choose a school. But he said if the board votes to amend the plan to give teacher preference greater weight than diversity, he will object.

    "There is an automatic answer to any question about violating the agreement and that answer is no," Escarraz wrote.

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