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Augusta lawyers work to lift schools court order

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Ben Allen was a third-grader at John M. Tutt Middle School in 1962 when he noticed things were different.

Though he lived in Terrace Manor subdivision, he was bused across town and past elementary schools serving white children to get to Tutt, with other black children.

"No one really said much about the dual school system," Allen said. "Back then, that's just the way it was."

Around the time Allen graduated from Glenn Hills High School, a U.S. district judge acted on a lawsuit brought against the school system eight years earlier by a local black family. In 1972, the court ordered that all Richmond County public schools desegregate, and it handed down a list of six requirements to be met.

After he finished law school, Allen took over the case in 1986 to represent the Acree family, the plaintiffs. Allen has worked with school board attorney Pete Fletcher, who has handled the case since 1972, to oversee the progress of desegregation.

The court order is still on the district's books almost 40 years later. Both attorneys are working to tie up loose ends and possibly lift the order, closing a chapter from the county's dark past.

Allen and Fletcher recently agreed to meet once a month for the next year to work on the components of the court order that have not been met. Both agree that two main parts need to be addressed, but because of the sensitivity of the issue, it won't be easy to let the order go.

"There's been discussion about how do we bring to an end a lawsuit that's been with us seemingly forever," Allen said. "Sometimes, it's easier to begin something than to bring it to an end. The question is, how do we bring it to an end in such a fashion that you don't create fear in the community?"

Of the six original components, both Allen and Fletcher agree that all but two remain unfulfilled: having diversity in classified staff, such as janitors and nutrition specialists, and improving student achievement.

Some argue that still having the court order hurts the county's image.

While blacks used to be the minority in the district, schools are now 75 percent black and 23 percent white, according a data analysis by ProPublica, a nonprofit organization specializing in investigative journalism.

The school board is made up of five blacks and five whites, and the district's past three superintendents have been black.

"We've done everything the court said to do," board member Frank Dolan said. "All the schools are equal. They are all in good condition. They all have good gyms; they all have good stuff. Some of them may need some work, but there's not 100 points between them."

Despite this equality, Dolan said, the court order might give businesses the impression that the county still runs a segregated school system and discourage new industries from choosing Augusta.

To put the order to rest, the remaining changes might be complicated. Nationwide, almost 200 school districts still have desegregation orders imposed by the U.S. Justice Department, including Columbia County.

Allen and Fletcher would have to file a joint motion in court to end the order, but they would have to prove to a judge that the requirements have been fulfilled.

Though the district's classified workers are mostly black, Fletcher said that might just be a reflection of the school's communities. It would almost require bringing white workers from across town to fill positions just to create diversity, he said.

"This type of lawsuit is complicated because it involves the community and their feelings," Fletcher said.

As far as student achievement, Allen said Richmond County schools need to improve to show the district is fair for all.

With 37 of 55 schools not making federal adequate yearly progress and 20 schools on the state's "needs improvement" list, that issue might be bigger than race.

"This system is not a bad system," Allen said. "That doesn't mean there's things that don't need to be done, but that's not just for black students. It's more than race. It's the education of our children. When I say 'our children,' I'm talking about all children that walk through these halls."

The next 12 months will be the most consistent attention the order has received in years. In the past, the attorneys might have met only a few times a year, and the order is not brought up often before board members.

Given Richmond County's past and undeniable racial tensions today, the order almost ensures the district won't return to inequity, said school board Vice President Venus Cain.

"If Augusta was truly a progressive city and wanted to see our city change, I'd say let it go," Cain said. "But until I can see Augusta as a whole being a progressive city and people working together to make things equal, I wouldn't be comfortable."

Both Allen and Fletcher agree that it's possible to get the order lifted. Cain agrees to an extent, but sees that day as still being far off.

"In my lifetime, I don't see it happening," Cain said. "I think I could die and come back to life twice, and things still wouldn't be different."

Desegregation Order

Original changes required of the school system in Acree v. The County Board of Education of Richmond County

-- Equal facilities

-- Equal books/supplies

-- Faculty that represents the community

-- Classified staff that represents the community

-- Transportation may not be more of a burden for any group of students than another

-- All schools must have equal extra curricular activities

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Craig Spinks
817
Points
Craig Spinks 08/08/11 - 02:20 am
0
0
In fiscal year 2011, how much

In fiscal year 2011, how much money did the RCBOE pay their school board attorney for his services in connection with this lawsuit?

By the way, a caveat for the RCBOE attorney: When a cousin complained several years ago to His Dad about the complexity of the position to which he had recently been elected, Dick retorted, "Son, if you can't do it, we need to get somebody down there who can."

Just My Opinion
5880
Points
Just My Opinion 08/08/11 - 04:46 am
0
0
Oh, my God...let's just call

Oh, my God...let's just call it what it is, this is just another legal ploy to suck money out of anyone who is willing to pay it. Both of these attorneys are playing the game of seeing how long they can string this ridiculous matter out. If it wasn't so heinous, it'd be laughable. I wish it would go up for review to an honest judge with common sense, and let him throw the stupid thing out. The numbers don't lie! For quite some time now, things in Richmond County schools are either racially equal or tipped way over into the black side...and that's okay because it's the way time has taken us.

Brad Owens
4727
Points
Brad Owens 08/08/11 - 07:46 am
0
0
What a waste of our money. We

What a waste of our money. We need to get out from under this. I don't feel these guys have a real interest in getting this done.

Dixieman
15999
Points
Dixieman 08/08/11 - 06:28 am
0
0
Those bad old times are

Those bad old times are finished. We have all moved on in 2011 and this order (and Justice Department supervision of Georgia under the Voting Rights Act) should end.

Austin Rhodes
2907
Points
Austin Rhodes 08/08/11 - 07:35 am
0
0
Little known FUN FACT: In

Little known FUN FACT: In order for the system to be in compliance with the "classified employees" quota (janitors, lunchroom aides, etc), they would have to lay off black folks and hire white folks.

Make THAT MOTION in a meeting, and the RCBOE will be out from under that order toot-sweet!

Austin Rhodes
2907
Points
Austin Rhodes 08/08/11 - 07:37 am
0
0
OH...Craig...upwards of 20k

OH...Craig...upwards of 20k per year is said to go to Ben Allen on this deal, God only knows what Pete Fletcher's firm has billed on it.

Yeah...they are in a hurry to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs...

Riverman1
86989
Points
Riverman1 08/08/11 - 07:52 am
0
0
The Superintendent could

The Superintendent could probably go into court without a lawyer, explain the situation and give him the statistics, and get the whole thing reversed in one day.

Brad Owens
4727
Points
Brad Owens 08/08/11 - 07:54 am
0
0
Austin, can't you do a FOI

Austin, can't you do a FOI request to find out the exact amount?

Go one Austin, find out will you?

Austin Rhodes
2907
Points
Austin Rhodes 08/08/11 - 07:59 am
0
0
What needs to happen is a RC

What needs to happen is a RC resident file a court complaint accusing the attys of drawing the case out to make $$$, and see what a Judge has to say when he reviews the state of affairs with the system.

The RCBOE has issues, as does EVERY school system of its size and demo. BUT, those issues have not one dang thing to do with RACE, or the desegregation order.

As James Brown sang (in a video in which I appeared!):
"I'm SO TIRED...of STANDING STILL...we got to MOVE ON...!"

billyjones1949
1
Points
billyjones1949 08/08/11 - 08:16 am
0
0
This stuff started when I was

This stuff started when I was at Richmond Academy and that was 44 years ago. The school system is over 70% black now. What else??? Wake up Venus, it has been done and over done. If I had children I would move to a small house so the school tax would be lower and use the difference in my salery to send them to a private school where I would not have to put up with this.

Little Lamb
46976
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Little Lamb 08/08/11 - 09:49 am
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0
Attorney Pete Fletcher

Attorney Pete Fletcher said:

Though the district's classified workers are mostly black, that might just be a reflection of the school's (sic) communities. It would almost require bringing white workers from across town to fill positions just to create diversity.

Well, they bus the students to achieve racial quotas. Why not bus the staff to achieve racial quotas, too? Freedom of choice went out the window a long time ago.

Attorney Ben Allen said:

As far as student achievement, Richmond County schools need to improve to show the district is fair for all.

Not necessarily. You don't need to improve to be fair. Mediocrity for all is fair.

Take a look at the sidebar, the gray box at the end of the article. Nowhere does it say that the system has to be good. It says merely that the system has to be equal.

seenitB4
90862
Points
seenitB4 08/08/11 - 09:31 am
0
0
Like Jones said this

Like Jones said this merry-go-round has been going on since the 60s....now to make things equal you would have to layoff blacks & hire whites....put more whites in the schools....how crazy is that...
Geez...enough is enough......we should have kept neighborhood schools years ago & updated all schools...
How is it working for you.......RC shot itself in the foot & has been bleeding for years.

Little Lamb
46976
Points
Little Lamb 08/08/11 - 09:42 am
0
0
Attorney Ben Allen said,

Attorney Ben Allen said, “This system is not a bad system.”

But reporter Tracy McManus wrote that 37 of 55 schools are not making federal adequate yearly progress and 20 schools are on the state's "needs improvement" list.

Just how bad do you have to be to be a bad system, Mr. Allen?

Little Lamb
46976
Points
Little Lamb 08/08/11 - 09:46 am
0
0
Tracy McManus wrote: Allen

Tracy McManus wrote:

Allen and Fletcher recently agreed to meet once a month for the next year to work on the components of the court order that have not been met. . . . In the past, the attorneys might have met only a few times a year.

I'm sure Allen's and Fletcher's hourly rates are pretty high. These meetings will cost us school tax payers plenty.

Little Lamb
46976
Points
Little Lamb 08/08/11 - 10:19 am
0
0
Venus Cain is a school board

Venus Cain is a school board trustee and has been elected vice-president of the board. Here statements are curious. Let's summarize them below for discussion:

1. Given Richmond County's past and undeniable racial tensions today, the order almost ensures the district won't return to inequity.

2. If Augusta was truly a progressive city and wanted to see our city change, I'd say let it go. But until I can see Augusta as a whole being a progressive city and people working together to make things equal, I wouldn't be comfortable.

3. In my lifetime, I don't see it [getting the court order lifted] happening. I think I could die and come back to life twice, and things still wouldn't be different.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Item 1 is really strange. She thinks this archaic court order is preventing the school district from "returning to inequity"??? You've got an elected school board that is racially diverse. That school board has hired black superintendents three consecutive times. The administrative staff is racially diverse. The certified staff is racially diverse. The classified staff is not racially diverese, but instead is over-represented by blacks. The preponderant political persuasion of administrators in the educational field is liberal, therefore they are in favor of racial equality. What kind of inequity does Venus Cain think the district would return to? How could it possibly return to the "separate but equal" system of 1972, the year the court order was handed down?

Item 2 is disturbing, as well. Venus Cain implies that the court order cannot be lifted until she sees "people working together to make things equal." Well, there is none so blind as she who will not see. Maybe she and the school board trustees have not been working to make things equal, but you can bet that the school administrators have been working hard to make things equal.

In item 3 she says she wants this court order to drag on and on and on. What purpose does that serve?

Little Lamb
46976
Points
Little Lamb 08/08/11 - 10:27 am
0
0
Austin Rhodes had a good idea

Austin Rhodes had a good idea up above. A citizen should petition the federal court to close this order. Then some federal judge should impose a $5,000 a day penalty on the school board for failure to meet the terms of the order in a timely fashion. That ought to speed the process up.

seenitB4
90862
Points
seenitB4 08/08/11 - 10:42 am
0
0
Well the whites COULD file a

Well the whites COULD file a lawsuit now because they're not equally represented in RC schools....DUH...& it goes on-on-on-on...why stop now.....or we could demand that people move back into RC to equalize the numbers....stooopid is as stooopid does....

Little Lamb
46976
Points
Little Lamb 08/08/11 - 11:46 am
0
0
If you would like to read a

If you would like to read a similar article from the Chronicle of December 21, 2008, just type the following two keywords in the search box at the top of this page and click the search button:

acree disappointed

Though the article is mainly about Richmond County schools and its court order, the article also discusses Columbia County schools and their court order.

The most interesting thing is that the article mentions that Jefferson County successfully got the court to lift their court order and declare the school system "unitary," that is, no longer "separate."

I think Richmond County could achieve unitary status if they would just go ask the court, as Riverman suggested earlier.

rmwhitley
5547
Points
rmwhitley 08/08/11 - 01:10 pm
0
0
Until all of the
Unpublished

Until all of the conservatives are banished from Richmond County and it becomes a "progressive" (liberal, democratic) society is what it appears Ms. Cain wishes for you "folk".

Dixieman
15999
Points
Dixieman 08/08/11 - 01:16 pm
0
0
Meanwhile.... Meanwhile.... M

Meanwhile....
Meanwhile....
Meanwhile, if anyone is paying attention, ARE THE KIDS LEARNING ANYTHING????
That is ALL that counts in a school system.
Or should be.

Craig Spinks
817
Points
Craig Spinks 08/08/11 - 02:41 pm
0
0
Dixieman, You are a

Dixieman,

You are a troublemaker.

iLove
626
Points
iLove 08/08/11 - 04:25 pm
0
0
Double sigh, about both sides
Unpublished

Double sigh, about both sides of this issue.

Willow Bailey
20603
Points
Willow Bailey 08/08/11 - 06:13 pm
0
0
Raise some doubt, raise some

Raise some doubt, raise some fear, and raise some money. Dixie gets it.

commonsense-is-endangere
43
Points
commonsense-is-endangere 08/08/11 - 11:07 pm
0
0
Bad times? This was the

Bad times? This was the initial nail in the coffin for the Richmond County school system and later the city of Augusta and the birth of Columbia County as we now know it.

deeo1055@yahoo.com
0
Points
deeo1055@yahoo.com 08/09/11 - 07:25 am
0
0
After reading this article

After reading this article and the alleged comments from folks like Austin & Venus, Boy I bet my comments gonna make some folks howl...Dont need to agrue on this board, telephone me if you want to, or do whatever I have a life to live....

ISN'T IS AMUSING HOW THE MEDIA (even "conservatives" ) try to persuade public opinion for their $$$ benefit while politicans once elected say things about others or where they have relocated to and forget things once said.....

Dear Venus, As you grew up in California, the child of an air traffic controlleer, do you remember why you told me your father moved YOUR FAMILY every time someone unique moved into the neighborhhood? AND YOU ACCUSE YOUR CHOSEN PLACE TO LIVE OF WHATEVER THE PAPER IMPLIES OR ACCURATELY REPORTS YOU SAID? Hey gal, remember your involvement with the Concerned Citizens over the "Goshen High School", meeting with EG Meybohm, etc. Lady I just dont quite know what you have become, beware of the "siren song" of politics as if you haven't hit the rocks you are mighty close....

AND AUSTIN...15+ years ago when I was leading the fight against the RCBE over the Goshen High School, and appearing 3+ times on your show, you were boasting words to the effect Pete FLETCHER IS THE GREATEST SCHOOL BOARD LAWYER, etc....and protecting/listening to several board members who were your friends and political allies when the FACTS WERE ON THE TABLE...I will never forget your body language and eyes that got as big as a dinner plate when on your show you raised your eyebrows like "WHOA HE SAID THAT" when I spoke of ex-Sen. Allgoods land acquisions near property condemned in McBean for that school, etc, and then YOU FLEE Richmond County to Columbia Co instead of staying here and helping resolve just the RCBE situation which Venus also could help with....well I guess the $$ you can make discussing or agitating under the protection of the 1st ammendment right of "Freedom of the Press" vs. your desire to do good and help resolve tough public issues which I really feel is part of your basic soul is a very difficult act to balance....

Meanwhile Venus and Austin, those Attys have made big money off the taxpayers BECAUSE PEOPLE REFUSE TO WORK TOGETHER IN GOOD FAITH, EVEN IF SOMEONE GETS THEIR FEELINGS HURT which we all can get over. YALL CRITIZE WHEN your actions-contridictions are helping EXERBATE THE PROBLEM??????????????? Geez menellie guys...the real problem in Augusta GA has NEVER been black vs. white, as much as it has been the SELF APPOINTED LEADERS desire for GREEN.....guess it is hard to balance $$$ and be a watchdog...guess it is hard to balance facts/ones past experiences in a "promised land left" with your political career....Really good examples of the Biblical warning of "The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil" and the other proverb "power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely"...But dont ya'll sweat it, I have MUCH MORE CONFIDENCE in the average Richmond County resident that I do over politicans and the media....we will survive wont we folks...

Little Lamb
46976
Points
Little Lamb 08/09/11 - 07:45 am
0
0
From the article up above,

From the article up above, attorney Pete Fletcher said, "This type of lawsuit is complicated because it involves the community and their feelings."

And immediately up above, blogger deeo1055 said, "Those Attys have made big money off the taxpayers BECAUSE PEOPLE REFUSE TO WORK TOGETHER IN GOOD FAITH, EVEN IF SOMEONE GETS THEIR FEELINGS HURT which we all can get over."

I wish I knew what either of them meant.

AutumnLeaves
8461
Points
AutumnLeaves 10/15/11 - 11:43 pm
0
0
Follow the money.

Follow the money.

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