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Archive for Thursday, February 23, 1995

SCHOOL BOARD TREADS LINE ON EQUITY

February 23, 1995

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The word "equity" has many meanings for candidates vying for four seats on the Lawrence school board.

From the air conditioners on the roof to the racial makeup of students in a classroom, the "equity issue" being raised in the 1995 Lawrence school board campaign is a broad one.

As broad as the issue is, the footing for the school board in coming years is as narrow as a tightrope and will require superior balance.

In a growing school district, board of education members must decide how to pay for growth while also maintaining existing facilities, Supt. Al Azinger said.

If all the money goes to new schools, patrons of the old schools cry foul. If no money goes toward new schools, the seams of crowded buildings begin to split.

What a school board must do is provide a balance, he said, ensuring that all students in the district have an equal opportunity to education.

But there's more to it than facilities.

Equity also encompasses racial and socioeconomic integration, distribution of resources and multicultural curricula.

  • Facilities

Residents voted in November to finance construction of a new high school to make space for a bulging population and to renovate 14 older buildings.

Although candidates are campaigning to make sure the projects are carried off in an "equitable" manner, their words are little more than promises to uphold the law.

"What the people voted on, we have no option but to do," Azinger said.

  • Definition

What the board has yet to do is adopt a policy defining "equity" and outlining steps toward reaching the definition.

A volunteer Equity Council has recommended such a policy.

"Equity is based on the premise that all students -- regardless of race, color, national origin, gender, residential location, sexual orientation, native language, age, social and economic status, family structure and lifestyle, religious preference, or disability -- have the right to an education of equal quality," the recommended definition states.

A challenge to equity, identified by the council, is contributions from outside sources that, while beneficial to individual schools, throw off the balance of resources districtwide.

  • Minority enrollment

The school board sent a draft policy to the council in September. The draft recommended transfer, busing and boundary changes when minority enrollment fell below or rose above a certain percentage.

The policy drew criticism from Fred Rodriguez, Kansas University associate professor of curriculum and instruction. The council concurred with Rodriguez.

"Quite frankly, you can have a 'balance' between ethnic minority groups in each school and still not have equity in any school," he said. "Simply moving students will not 'fix the problem.' This policy as written addresses integration, not the development of an equitable system."

  • For a look at candidates' opinions on school equity, see page 4B.

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