Columbia Public Schools strikes a blow to -- not for -- Diversity

COLUMBIA, Mo 1/10/14 (Beat Byte) --  "By kicking out everybody who lives along Scott Blvd., you're kicking out diversity," Marjorie Ramirez told the Columbia School Board at their Dec. 10 meeting.

Under consideration: a boundary shift that would reportedly move dozens of low income and minority children out of tony Mill Creek Elementary in south Columbia. 

"Diversity will go to zero," Ramirez -- who said she was the school's only Hispanic parent -- told Board members.  "Mill Creek Elementary will become an all-white school for white, rich kids."

But instead of discussing that big-picture issue, Board members fussed over trivia; passed around motions for small changes; and concocted theoretical "what if" scenarios (what if we put this off; what if we look at it in two years; if we allow 5th graders to remain at Mill Creek, should they provide their own transportation?)

The hour-long discussion saw so much hand-wringing and confusion the thought of another uncontested Columbia School Board race is almost unbearable. 

But word Rex Cone has dropped out of this year's campaign raises the disconcerting specter of the second uncontested School Board race in a row.   Candidate filing closes Jan. 21, and so far, only three candidates have filed for three seats.   With the current candidates, voters can expect no challenging questions from Ines Segert or Michelle Gadbois types.   Instead, a mostly rubber-stamp board will face enormous indebtedness, rising property taxes, redistricting controversies, and now, the search for another new superintendent -- the fourth in six years. 

"I guess I'm just making noise," Board member Helen Wade said during the boundary change discussion, after thinking out loud about the implications of moving established families to one of several other schools.
"What do we need to accomplish with our conversation?" Board member Darin Preis asked.  "Do we have to agree to something tonight?  Can we pick and choose elements of it?"

"Sounds like nobody knows," Wade responded, after more chatter.
Board members, meanwhile, seemed to disregard parents who testified against the redistricting measure.

"I talked with a lot of my neighbors, and we really feel like we're being ping-ponged between different districts for a two year period," said Michael Head, who has a 1st grade daughter at Mill Creek.   Under the bounday shift, she would move to Paxton-Keeley Elementary for grades two and three; and a yet-to-be-built new elementary school just approved for construction on 36 acres of land the district recently purchased for nearly $3 million.
"We feel torn and ping ponged," Head told the Board.
The number of free-and-reduced price lunch students -- mostly low-income and minority children -- would drop from 11% to just two percent under the plan, explained Mill Creek PTA president Mandy Llewellyn, whose two children attend the school.  

"Drawing boundaries like this only plays into the presumption that Mill Creek is looking to be a private school on public dollars, " Llewellyn told the Board.  "But that's far from the truth about how most of us feel."
PTA members instead urged the Board to consider "new growth areas for boundary shifts, not areas with well-established families who have always gone to Mill Creek," Llewellyn explained. 

Board members barely discussed the diversity issue and after more back and forth about stress on families, settled on an amendment that would allow 5th graders to stay.   

"Many people are not happy about this," Ramirez said.  "Hispanics, African-Americans, and people from other cultures"  will be moved out of Mill Creek.   "I don't understand this," she said. "It's not fair."

CPS Board Boundary shift discussion   Starts at 31:00; parental testimony at 86:29.