Metro Nashville's new student assignment plan, sold to the public as a money-saver by the school board, actually has resulted in a net loss to the district's budget, according to testimony Thursday in federal court.
"There would be more money spent" because of the rezoning plan, said Chris Henson, the district's chief financial officer.
Henson testified on the 11th day of a hearing for the NAACP-backed lawsuit accusing the school board of discriminating against black children by ending cross-town busing from north Nashville to Hillwood. During the hearing, board members have denied any racial motivation in adopting the rezoning plan, claiming instead that they wanted to make more efficient use of school buildings.
During his testimony, Henson was not asked how much money the plan costs the district. But he has stated previously that the net loss is roughly $4 million annually.
The district saved $1.2 million by closing four schools, he said, but spent an additional $5.3 million to improve north Nashville's schools as part of the plan.
Henson told U.S. District Judge John Nixon all the improvements were included in this year's budget, including more teachers and guidance counselors. School board members promised the improvements when they adopted the rezoning plan in July 2008, countering critics who said they were consigning black children to substandard schools in north Nashville.
Also Thursday, an expert witness testified for the school board that, by his calculations, the plan didn't resegregate schools. Milan Mueller, a consultant who said he has helped more than 100 districts produce rezoning plans, testified there are 10 Nashville schools with at least 90 percent black enrollment, the same number as before this city's plan took effect this year.
He conceded there was "some minimal segregative effect" in Pearl-Cohn's schools in north Nashville, but said, "Overall, diversity was increased."
Under cross-examination, civil rights attorney Michael Lottman pointed out there are 630 more black students attending Pearl-Cohn schools this year. "Isn't that the number that you termed insignificant?" he asked Mueller.
Mueller also termed Nashville's plan "progressive" because it gives north Nashville's parents the choice of putting their children on buses to Hillwood or sending them to school closer to home.
"By offering choice in perpetuity, it goes beyond what other districts have offered," he said.
The hearing is expected to end Friday with testimony from school superintendent Jesse Register.