The NAACP endorsed the concept yesterday of the $8.2 million magnet school program proposed by the Prince George's County school board to achieve court-ordered racial integration, but offered nine changes to the plan.
In its 40-page document, the NAACP suggests that the magnet school proposal is often short-sighted and allows too much time for implementation. The organization, which 13 years ago sued the county schools in an effort to integrate them, said the changes would better achieve desegregation of the 105,000-pupil system.
The plan proposed by Superintendant John A. Murphy and approved by the county Board of Education is scheduled to be discussed at a June 7 hearing in Baltimore before U.S. District Court Judge Frank A. Kaufman.
"We think the school board should be given the chance to achieve unitary status by implementation of magnet schools," said NAACP attorney William A. Bradford yesterday.
But, Bradford said, no matter how well intentioned the magnet plan, a comprehensive, back-up busing plan is needed in the event the plan falls short of its goal. He said there is no guarantee that students from areas such as Bowie and Laurel will be attracted to magnet schools located near the District.
Murphy's plan allows for busing if the plan does not work within five years, but the NAACP said that, even currently, "black children are bearing a disproportionately heavy burden" of the traveling outside of their neigborhood.
Additionally, the NAACP brief warns against creating "schools within schools" as it said has occurred in the Talented and Gifted (TAG) program, which the NAACP said "has been disproportionately unavailable to black students."
The NAACP also expressed a concern that 10 predominantly black elementary and two high schools are assumed to be impossible to integrate because they are located so far from predominantly white schools. The NAACP said some of those schools, referred to as "Milliken II," can be integrated. For example, the brief said, Hillcrest Heights Elementary could be desegregated by bringing in students who would otherwise attend Melwood Elementary, near Upper Marlboro.
Under Murphy's plan, those Milliken II schools are to receive additional "compensatory education" funds for more staff and equipment. The NAACP said the proposed funding of about $300 per student is inadequate.
The issue of "comp ed" funding has not gone unnoticed by the school board. At its regularly scheduled meeting Thursday night, the school board approved a motion to ask the county government for an additional $665,000 in compensatory aid. This would increase funding from the proposed $1.2 million Murphy sought to nearly $2 million.
Bennie Thayer, a member of the Ad Hoc Committee on Quality Education for Prince George's County, said he was "very comfortable with the NAACP doucment in that it does address many of the issues we raised."
Thayer, who is black, said he was most concerned that five years was too long a time to institute the desegregation plan. He also said he was bothered that the compensatory education plan for the predominantly black Milliken II schools was funded far below the popular Talented and Gifted program.
Like many parents, Thayer does not relish the idea of busing, but he said he is also not convinced that white parents will voluntarily send their children to magnet schools located in predominantly black areas.
Prince George's County school spokesman Brian J. Porter said there were no surprises in the suggestions made yesterday by the NAACP. While he expects board members to disagree with some of the points raised, he said he believes "there is a way to reach an amiable solution to our differences."
A few of the NAACP "points are fairly thin," Porter said referring to the suggestion to reduce the size of a proposed magnet school community advisory council from the proposed 100 members to 24. Porter said the idea was to include a broad respresentation of the county on that body.
"We'll have a problem with any attempt to increase busing," Porter added, responding to an NAACP suggestion that a full-fledged back-up busing plan should be instituted. As for the notion that many parents will not voluntarily participate in the magnet program, Porter said, "That's selling our residents short."