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Archive for Sunday, January 9, 1994

BALANCING ACT

January 9, 1994

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Spreading racial and socioeconomic groups among the city's junior high schools is important, but there are other factors to consider.

As they work to draw new junior high school boundaries, Lawrence school board members are in the position of trying to balance diversity against practicality.

Both are important considerations.

During a public forum Thursday night, some school district patrons urged board members and school officials to take advantage of a "golden opportunity" to create a near-perfect racial and socioeconomic balance as the district adds a fourth junior high school and draws new school boundaries.

The district has released demographic figures on three boundary proposals for the junior high schools. As many might have suspected, Central Junior High at 14th and Massachusetts street now has the highest percentage of minority students and the highest percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches in the district.

Two of the three proposals for redrawing the junior high districts would increase the percentage of both categories at Central, reduce them at South and West and place a relative small number of minority and low-income students at the new Southwest Junior High. The third proposal, however, makes significant steps toward balancing those factors among the four junior highs.

Some speakers at Thursday's forum said they didn't think the district had gone far enough toward achieving a perfect balance. But school officials pointed out that other factors need to be considered. A more even balance would require more busing and therefore higher costs. Parents also repeatedly cite their preference for "neighborhood schools," that allow their children to attend the schools closest to their homes. That probably couldn't be the top priority if the district is bent on a perfect socioeconomic and racial balance in the schools.

Providing that balance is a positive goal. For that reason, the district should look seriously at the boundary proposal that divides minority and low-income students most evenly among the junior highs. There may even be a fourth or fifth proposal that could be put on the table and considered.

Those proposals, however, should be accompanied by information on how much additional money the district would have to spend on busing and how many students would have to travel further to their junior high schools. The district has to be practical, and with the figures at hand, district patrons might also agree that a more-perfect balance wouldn't be worth the additional expense for taxpayers and travel time for students.

A sensible balance of all those interests should be the school board's goal.

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