De facto segregation not school board responsibility

The tiny Sausalito Marin City School District, which consists of two schools, is being sued by California Att. Gen. Xavier Becerra for maintaining unequal treatment (“First desegregation order in 50 years hits Marin schools,” Los Angeles Times, Sep. 22). Yet I maintain that the district is not legally responsible for de facto segregation that is a result of conditions beyond its control.

At issue is the racially mixed enrollment of Willow Creek in Sausalito and the racially imbalanced enrollment of Bayside Martin Luther King Jr. Academy in Marin City.  Yet in the 1960s, the school board voted to put black children from Marin City and white children from Sausalito in the same schools. In other words, its intent was to have integrated schools.  But when several local military bases closed in the 1990s, enrollment declined and white flight ensued.  Parents then stepped in to create a new charter school in Sausalito, which remains a gem.

Nevertheless, if Becerra persists in his lawsuit, he runs the risk of the community seceding to form its own even tinier school district.  That has happened in Gardendale, Alabama, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Memphis, Tennessee.  I grant that Sausalito is far more progressive than these other three places, but there’s always the possibility of parents becoming angry and frustrated enough to do so.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

6 Replies to “De facto segregation not school board responsibility”

  1. Reading newspaper accounts, the history of these schools is confusing. It looks like there was a mostly white neighborhood public school and a mostly minority neighborhood public school + then the school system lost some enrollment and combined the two neighborhood public schools + then the higher-SES parents created a charter school + the charter school was much more popular — particularly with the higher-SES parents — than the neighborhood public school + the school system mismanaged/underfunded the neighborhood public school + by early 2019 pretty much all the functional parents had opted for the charter over the neighborhood public school, leaving the neighborhood public school badly under-enrolled and with more minority/fewer white kids than the charter school.

    From what I can tell, this sounds less like racially-motivated state action and more like the school system being responsive to the higher-SES parents (who, although majority white/Asian included many blacks/Hispanics) while being dismissive of the lower-SES parents — in other words, the govt favored the affluent/well-educated/politically-organized parents and disfavored the low-income/uneducated/politically weak parents.

    Rather than suing the school system for racial discrimination, perhaps the state could/should have taken over the small local school system temporarily on the ground that the small local school system was doing such a bad job of running the neighborhood school.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: The school board’s intent was to integrate the district. But due to circumstances beyond its control, enrollment shrank and segregation increased. I don’t think this was the result of the board’s favoring one group over another. That’s not the case in the South, where parents wanted no part of integration and put pressure to secede from the large district and form their own.

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  3. But what caused the creation of the charter and what caused the charter to be so much more popular than the neighborhood school? Seems like the school system should have refused to create the charter. There were not enough kids to support two separate schools.

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  4. Labor Lawyer: The board likely was responding to the wishes of parents who wanted a charter school. I don’t think it’s fair to assume the board was favoring white affluent parents because charter schools are very popular with disadvantaged black parents.

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  5. You’re dead right and ever since that AG order was issued, the district board has essentially defunded Willow Creek Academy (WCA), the district’s public charter school that educates 80% of the kids. The current funding arrangement calls for 100% of the basic aid excess, around $4 million, to go entirely to Bayside Martin Luther King Academy (BMLK) so that BMLK now gets around $6.5 million for 115 kids and WCA gets around $3.5 million for almost 400 kids. All-in once you adjust for overhead, it works out to around $45,000 per student at BMLK for 20% of the kids and the mandated state minimum at WCA, around $8000, for 80% of the kids. This is a district that generates around $20,000 per student and in a state that funds at around $12,500 per student.

    Does that sound like fair funding to you?

    Interestingly, the majority of Marin City kids go to WCA as do most English learners, most low-income kids, and most of our vulnerable kids. In fact, 40% of the WCA student population qualifies for free lunch or for reduced-price lunch (that’s a family of 3 on annual income of $27,014 or less). It is not a “relatively advantaged population”.

    One of the key issues that has held BMLK back is how poorly run the school is. For example, many people talk about two incidents as evidence of unfair funding at BMLK but unfortunately, they are both untrue. One is that when the school year started in 2016, there weren’t any text books available to students. Not true, I was there when they found them misplaced in a random cupboard. My youngest child went to BMLK during the 2016-17 school year so I am one of the rare parents who has sent their kids to both schools. The second story is about the 5th grade math teacher and how the school didn’t have one for a long time. That is true, but it isn’t because there was no funding. The funding sat there unused because the administrators couldn’t arrange to interview candidates and when they did, they either didn’t make offers or the candidates didn’t accept when offers were made. It was never about funding in either case.

    Lastly, many stories give the impression that WCA is and was very well funded. That is simply not true. For as long as I have been involved (my kids are almost 11 and 8), and even longer, BMLK has received multiples of the WCA’s per student-funding. The only reason that WCA has been able to provide its students the experience people hear about is through private fundraising, predominantly parents who give over-and-above the property taxes many of them pay.

    To put this funding disparity into context, Marin county is home to a very expensive private school called Marin Country Day School (MCDS). If this district closed the only school they run and sent every single kid to MCDS, they would save about $13,000 a year. That isn’t a typo – this district is set to spend $45,000 of tax payer money per student at BMLK this year, but MCDS “only” costs $32,000.

    WCA is set to receive $8000 per student.

    The media needs to cover the educational travesty that is unfolding in this district. The best thing to happen to this district is WCA and it has taken almost 20 years. It may disappear in a matter of months, and for no good reason. This district has a surplus that is approaching $1 million that it does not need and it refuses to fairly (maybe even legally?) fund WCA out of spite, out of a feeling of retribution, and out of politics. Everyone should know what is going here.

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