School consolidation issue heads to federal court - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

School consolidation issue heads to federal court

By Tyana Williams - bio | email

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A federal judge must decide whether consolidating East Feliciana Parish's middle and high schools is appropriate under the desegregation order.

Lawyers expected the majority of witnesses to testify Tuesday, but after Nelson Taylor, lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, was carried out on a stretcher, Federal Judge James Brady decided court would be dismissed until he heard whether Taylor was able to continue.

While questioning East Feliciana School Board President Curtis Jelks, Taylor was seen rubbing his left arm and squeezing his hand repeatedly. Jelks was questioned on why the school board purchased a $1.3 million building, but never checked to see how much money the renovations would cost to make it appropriate for a school building to house Clinton Elementary students.

Taylor also asked about another $300,000 purchase the school board made. Taylor said he is trying to show the school board's own spending habits have created this current budget problem.

It was in the middle of this questioning that a federal marshal called for an ambulance after Taylor asked for another break.

"We're going to finish this," Taylor told supporters as EMS workers took him out on a stretcher. "We will win."

Superintendent Doug Beauchamp told the judge Tuesday morning that consolidation would definitely follow the desegregation order because all students would have the same opportunities. Beauchamp said the school board is facing a projected $2 million budget shortfall without consolidating the schools for the 2010-2011 school year. He said that is due to losing students, a drop in the MFP funding and decreased sales tax.

Beauchamp told the court if the middle schools are combined, the racial makeup will be 86 percent black and 14 percent white. If the high schools are consolidated, 87 percent would be black and 13 percent white.

Taylor and his partner, James Gray, questioned Beauchamp on why none of the ads for public meetings was specific. They also questioned Beauchamp about why a study has not been done to see how long students will have to wait to be bused to the new schools.

Following a question about whether the school board's plan took into consideration the desegregation order, Gray asked, "And if those buses are late, what are the chances it will be a black kid waiting?"

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