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Hanging in the balance: Education officials pleased with steps toward balancing races at two schools

The school system's balancing act is starting to work. Those at the top can see it in the numbers.

Last March, the McDuffie County Board of Education declined to vote on two policies recommended by school officials that would give Maxwell and Thomson Elementary Schools a similar makeup of African-American and Caucasian students. One plan was to redraw the two school districts; the other was a non-resident tuition policy.

Instead, the board decided to strictly enforce the residency requirements, asking all parents to prove they live in the district where their child is enrolled. Board members hoped this move would correct the discrepancy of racial balance between the schools.

And from preliminary attendance figures compiled by the school system, the plan has made some noticeable changes.

"I think you'll find from the preliminary numbers, we seem to be balanced," said Superintendent of Schools Mark Petersen.

In March of 2003 when the zoning change was proposed, Maxwell's makeup was 49 percent African-American and 48 percent Caucasian. The preliminary attendance figures from 2004 show Maxwell's makeup at 53.9 percent black and 43 percent white.

Numbers from last year had Thomson Elementary's makeup at 60 percent African-American and 36 percent Caucasian. The new numbers put TES at 60 percent black and 34.6 percent white.

"The board's action has obviously helped it. It shifted the numbers in the direction that we thought and brought the numbers closer," said BOE Chair Tommy Phelps.

School officials believe that the numbers will continue to change slightly because the deadline for proof of residency is set for Sept. 16. Parents must provide documentation to their child's school such as a utility bill or lease agreement to prove they live within the correct district.

Dr. Petersen stressed that the initial numbers are only attendance figures or a measure of "warm bodies" in the classroom. More concrete enrollment figures will be ready in September. In the meantime, board members are happy with the statistics they have.

"We're very pleased with the shift in the numbers, but it's something that the board is going to continue to monitor," Mr. Phelps said.

Web posted on Thursday, August 19, 2004

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