Beaufort News

School board directs Riverview to boost minority enrollment

The Beaufort County Board of Education on Tuesday directed Riverview Charter School to reopen admissions for next school year to entice -- and more aggressively recruit -- additional black and minority students to apply to the school.

The board's unanimous vote also requires the charter school to increase the number of black faculty and staff for the 2011-12 school year.

The charter school received 350 admissions applications during open enrollment in January from students in kindergarten through seventh grade for the coming school year. About 65 percent of those applicants are white, according to data presented to the board. Twenty percent are black.

That means the lottery required by state law to admit students to the charter school would likely result in an enrollment that does not meet minority targets set by the federal Office for Civil Rights.

OCR said in 2009 that Riverview's enrollment did not comply with the county school district's 1970 desegregation agreement, requiring the percentage of white and black students in each school in the county to approximate the districtwide percentage. To comply, Riverview has to incrementally reduce its percentage of white students and increase the number of black students it enrolls over the next few years, or face closure.

It is to enroll a maximum of 63.7 percent white students and 15.7 percent black students this fall.

The district overall enrolls 43.7 percent white students and 30.7 percent black students, according to district data.

County school board members said Tuesday they don't want to jeopardize compliance with the OCR agreement by allowing Riverview to run an admissions lottery that is not very likely to meet the targets. The OCR agreement says it is the district's responsibility to ensure Riverview's compliance.

Between $10 million and $15 million in federal funding is at stake if the district doesn't comply with OCR, district staff told the board.

"If we don't reach the racial balance, we're in trouble, they're in trouble, and I don't want to be in trouble with OCR," board vice chairman George Wilson said.

The weighted lottery processes Riverview submitted -- which would give preference to students who live in diverse areas of the county or attend diverse schools -- would likely result in a white enrollment that exceeds the amount allowed by OCR, said Jackie Rosswurm, the district's human resources chief who serves as a liaison between the district and Riverview.

The board's vote required Riverview to improve these processes to ensure a more diverse enrollment.

Riverview director Alison Thomas said the processes submitted put the school's enrollment at 65 percent white next fall. That's two percentage points lower than this year's white enrollment but still more than a percentage point shy of the OCR target.

Thomas said the school has already met next year's target for black enrollment and has 16.8 percent black enrollment this year, she said.

Thomas said the school could revise its weighing processes to ensure it meets the target without reopening admissions. She declined to comment on whether she thought extending the enrollment process, which closed at the end of January, would be a good decision, until she has a chance to review other application data that might be relevant.

Thomas said the school chose to propose weightings based on where students live this year because the district discouraged Riverview from giving direct preference based on race last year. If it gave direct preference to minority students, Riverview would significantly increase its odds of meeting the target, she said.

"If the district wants us to be more aggressive, we could certainly do that," she said.