Race not considered in U-46 boundary changes

Elgin Area School District U-46 did not ask a consultant to consider race when drawing new school attendance boundaries in 2003.

Attorneys suing the district sought to establish that during testimony in federal court Wednesday — although U-46 has already acknowledged that was the case.

Demographics expert Jerome McKibben, hired by the district in 2003 to draw new school boundaries and study enrollment trends, took the witness stand Wednesday on the third day of U-46’s class-action desegregation trial.

Five black and Hispanic families are suing the district alleging it discriminated against minorities by placing them in overcrowded schools, providing inadequate bilingual services and denying them access to gifted programs.

This week and next week, attorneys tackle claims that U-46 sent blacks and Hispanics to inferior schools. Dates have not been set for later phases of the trial.

Wednesday morning, McKibben, whose boundary proposal and enrollment projections have figured prominently in the lawsuit, testified that he was told to come up with a plan that returned students to their neighborhood schools wherever possible.

Plaintiffs claim this approach to student assignment, acknowledged by the district, resulted in minorities attending older, overcrowded schools in Elgin and Streamwood.

“Was it your view that in this district, going back to neighborhood schools would result in less diversity?” plaintiffs’ attorney Stewart Weltman asked.

“No,” McKibben said.

In a 2003 Daily Herald article, though, McKibben was quoted as saying, “You can have nice, compact neighborhood schools or you can have diversity, not only by race but by social and economic class. You cannot have both.”

McKibben testified Wednesday he did not make those statements.

“I was not talking about racial diversity with (the reporter), no,” he said.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys plan to call former Daily Herald reporters to the stand to refute testimony from McKibben and others who deny comments attributed to them in Daily Herald articles.

Weltman then turned to former U-46 Superintendent Connie Neale and her instructions to McKibben.

“She didn’t ask you to take race or ethnicity into account when you came up with the boundary recommendations?” Weltman asked.

“No, she did not,” McKibben replied.

But McKibben said later that it was his job to only look at student numbers. It was the district’s role, he said, to consider other factors like ethnicity and special programs when making boundary decisions.

Another witness admitted Wednesday to changing her testimony from her 2008 deposition. At that time, then-Assistant Director of Transportation Operations Amy Cook said she was not aware of traffic safety concerns at Illinois Park School in Elgin.

U-46 cited those concerns as one reason it closed the school. Plaintiffs say that closure had a heavily disproportionate effect on minorities.

On Wednesday, Cook said that after her deposition she recalled those safety concerns after conversations with her boss, Director of Transportation Andy Martin, and district lawyers.

“It was difficult to get in and out of the parking lot,” Cook testified. “There was only room for two or three buses.”

Lawyers for the plaintiffs called Superintendent Jose Torres to the stand for only about 10 minutes of fairly prosaic testimony Wednesday afternoon. Perhaps the most interesting part of his testimony was his admission that he wasn’t aware of the federal discrimination lawsuit when he was hired by U-46 in 2008.

“I was not quite aware of it, actually,” Torres said, testifying later that he became aware of the lawsuit after starting his tenure in July 2008.

Neale is expected to testify Thursday, and U-46 could start to present its defense next Tuesday.

U-46 desegregation trial: The issues

U-46 desegregation trial: The impact

U-46 desegregation case: The players

U-46 desegregation case: Anatomy of a trial

U-46 desegregation trial begins

U-46: Boundary changes saved money, reduced buses