- Associated Press - Friday, April 17, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A federal judge asked attorneys Friday to submit written briefs on whether the newly formed Jacksonville School District should be a party in a decades-old desegregation case, even though the district won’t officially exist as a separate entity until June 2016.

The hearing before U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. was scheduled to be a status update in the case after lawyers for the Pulaski County Special School District asked the court earlier this month to approve details of a proposed detachment plan for the new district. Jacksonville voters in November overwhelmingly approved forming the new district, which will carve out about a quarter of the Pulaski district’s student population and about 14 percent of its property tax base.

The Pulaski district and representatives from Jacksonville, who hired former state education commissioner Tony Wood as its future superintendent Thursday night, have been meeting to hash out the details of a separation agreement.

Patrick Wilson, an attorney for the future Jacksonville district, said after the hearing Friday that the two groups were unable to reach agreement on staffing issues but would not elaborate.

Wilson told Marshall in court Friday that the newly formed district should be a party to the desegregation case because the court could have final say on several issues that will govern how the district is organized.

“They shouldn’t have to try to tell our story,” he said. “Even if they could in some way present our perspective on things, they certainly can’t advocate for (Jacksonville), and they shouldn’t. Only we can do that.”

Marshall said there was a legal problem because the students and the schools that will be a part of the new district are still technically in the Pulaski District, which is already a party in the case.

The hearing Friday was requested by the Joshua Intervenors, the group of black students and their parents who filed the original desegregation case involving Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County school districts.

John Walker, attorney for the Joshua Intervenors, said the meetings between Pulaski and Jacksonville officials have not been inclusive to his clients and asked whether formal discovery would be necessary to be included in the conversations.

Marshall said he didn’t think it was appropriate to begin an adversarial relationship and urged the other two parties to make a larger effort to be inclusive.

The next status hearing is scheduled for May 19.

The state desegregation money is slated to stop after the 2017-18 school year, when court supervision is expected to end.

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