- Associated Press - Monday, July 20, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A federal judge ruled Monday that the makeup of the newly formed Jacksonville School District’s school board isn’t part of the decades-old Pulaski County Special School District desegregation case.

After more than three hours of testimony, U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. said a pre-emptive challenge to the Jacksonville District’s plan to elect at-large board members was “beyond the scope” of the desegregation case. A lawyer for the Joshua Interveners - the black parents who filed the desegregation challenge in the 1980s - filed a challenge to the planned makeup of the new board, saying at-large members tend to negate minority zoning ordered to ensure minority representation.

“I’m not convinced that what I call the Voting Rights Act issue about the zones for the new district board, I am not convinced that that is properly before the court in this case,” the judge said. “While there is certainly undeniably an indirect impact or effect on all of the unitary issues by how this board is constituted and who will be the new members. … I think it’s beyond the scope of this proceeding.”

Marshall said opponents would have to file a separate lawsuit alleging a violation of the U.S. Voting Rights Act to challenge the design of the new school board.

Marshall did not rule on a hiring issue related to the desegregation case, saying he needed more information from the attorneys on who they believe should have the final say on hiring decisions for the district that has not yet fully separated.

Voters in November approved the Jacksonville district be carved out of the Pulaski County schools’ territory, but the district will not be independent until July 1, 2016.

John Walker, lead attorney for the Joshua Interveners, said the advisory board of the newly formed district disobeyed the rules established by the desegregation case for hiring new employees when it chose to try to hire a white man instead of a black woman who had scored higher in the interview process for an assistant superintendent position.

The acting superintendent for the Pulaski County Special School District advised against the hiring decision, but Jacksonville moved forward.

Scott Richardson, an attorney for the Jacksonville district, said he interpreted the rules to allow the new district to have final say on hiring. He said it would not be fair to impose some of the desegregation history on the new district.

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