Moving poor and black children from an affluent  elementary

COLUMBIA, Mo 12/8/13 (Beat Byte) -- Fear of creating an all-white school on public dollars will be among issues Columbia School Board members face when they take up plans to redistrict Mill Creek elementary school.

School officials claim Mill Creek -- amidst affluent, mostly white south Columbia subdivisions -- is intolerably overcrowded, at nine students more than its 850 student capacity. 

But that argument sounds hollow to some parents, who see chronic over-crowding at other Columbia schools and worse, a deliberate attempt to remove poor and minority students from Mill Creek's rolls, a kind of reverse segregation.

The redistricting plan would create "an all-white, private school on public dollars," Mill Creek parent Becky Spicer told reporters.

A November editorial that tied the effort to segregation added credence to Spicer's fears.
"So what if such patterns tend to produce more segregated schools?" Hank Waters wrote. "Arguably the best education local black kids ever had was at Douglass School, a conscientiously segregated school where the particular needs and wants of the natural constituency were recognized and met....I'm not suggesting we should return to the days of 'separate but equal,' but I can argue we made a mistake when we purposefully dismantled schools like Douglass."

Two issues have sparked the redistricting effort: the pending construction of a new elementary school just south of Mill Creek; and the over-capacity claim. Assistant superintendent Peter Stiepleman wants to move roughly one hundred K-4 Mill Creek students to Grant, Russell, and Paxton-Keeley elementary schools.

Already 78.5% white, Mill Creek's student body would become even whiter -- and more affluent -- under Stiepleman's plan. Roughly 15% of students presently receive free and reduced-price lunches, the district's best indicator of poverty, and a strong indication of ethnic composition.

After redistricting, "free and reduced lunch numbers would absolutely decline considerably," Stiepleman told reporters.

Waters went even further. Stiepleman's redistricting plan, he wrote, would "reduce the lunch subsidy ratio to zero."

Stiepleman also suggested that Mill Creek is immune -- perhaps by chance or accident -- to diversity standards all other Columbia public schools must abide.  "In the past, our boundaries were drawn to reflect the economic diversity of the community," Stiepleman told reporter Katherine Martin. "Eighteen of 19 schools do just that. Mill Creek does not."