A second, markedly revised, proposal to reduce the amount of court ordered busing for grade-school children in Prince George's County was released yesterday by Superintendent Edward J. Feeney in an effort to both keep the concept alive and answer criticism from the black community.
The original reduced-busing proposal, unveiled in December, was attacked by several black leaders because it would make eight elementary schools more than 90 per cent black. The revised proposal would leave only one school -- Dodge Park --in that category.
The county School Board is expected to consider two proposals at a Thursday afternoon session. A majority of the nine board members indicated yesterday that they would vote to send both proposals to public hearings later this month.
"We've got a lot of talent in this county," said board chairman Norman Saunders, when asked about the controversial proposals. "Maybe by hearing from everyone we'll come up with an even better plan."
The two proposals are attempts to alter the student busing assignments set by the courts in 1972 to desegregate the county's public school system. Over the past five years the black student population has jumped from 28 percent to 42.6 percent of the total public school student body. Under the old assignment boundaries, this shift has resulted in the resegregation of the schools.
The same boundaries that in 1973 completely eliminated schools with black student populations over 50 percent now result in 62 elementary schools having black majorities. The first alternative would reduce the number of majority black schools to 43 while the second would reduce the number to 50.
Called variously a "neighborhood school concept" or "walker plan," the idea behind both studies is to allow children to attend their nearest school. Under the first study 11,000 children who now are bused would be allowed to walk to school.
Because it would result in seven fewer schools with 90 percent or larger black student populations and 11 fewer with less than 10 percent black populations than planned in the first alternative, only about 8,000 children would walk to school under the second plan. Those children would be walking to more racially integrated schools, school officials said.
Although most board members were reluctant yesterday to debate the merits of the two proposals, sources familiar with the board's actions said that four members -- Saunders Sue V. Mills, Chester Whiting and A. James Galato -- were prepared to vote for the original proposal.
"I still support the first proposal," said Mills, who led the fight against court-ordered busing five years ago, "but I guess I can live with either one. My hore was to reduce all unnecessary busing. But I think the second plan is useful because it shows how complicated it is to change attendance ratios. Just to drop the balck percentage in those eight schools, we had to rearrange the attendance in 41 other."
Bonnie Johns, the only black on the school board, said she was not yet ready to endorse the second plan but found it "much more acceptable" than the original. "At least it shows some reasonableness," said Johns. "The first proposal was just way out of touch with the spirit of desegregation."
Johns said she was holding a meeting tonight at her home with several community leaders to discuss the second proposal. "We're going to go through a lot of what-ifs," she said. "A lot rides on where people are coming from at that meeting."
State Sen. Tommie Broadwater, the top elected official in the predominantly black 25th district, virtually has dismissed any reduced-busing plan. "I don't think they (the plans) are going anywhere," Broadwater said in a recent interview. "They shouldn't waste time on any study. Maybe in 10 or 15 years we'll be ready.
Although Prince George's County carried out the greatest suburban busing order in the nation, it was done peacefully and officials want to avoid any new disruption that would upset the students.
Recent Supreme Court decisions state that school systems are not required to make boundary changes when their court ordered guidelines are upset by demographic changes. In Prince George's, the recent racial changes have come about because communities throughout the county are becoming more and more integrated as black families choose to move there.
Since the county school officials would decide on the boundary changes themselves, they would have to have court approval before they could be implemented. Paul Nussbaum, the school board's attorney, said he would not go to court unless he had "the general and total support" of the community, especially the black community.
Both of these alternatives, Nussbaum claimed, would stand up in court with such an approval.