The debate about how to achieve equity in county schools has moved to what the next steps should be, when to make each change and at what cost.
That's what County Council members told school Superintendent Michael E. Hickey and school board members yesterday at the two groups' quarterly meeting.
The board and council discussed the report "No Child Left Behind," written in March by a 23-member committee of citizens established by Hickey and County Executive James N. Robey to study perceived inequities in county schools and what can be done about them.
The report listed 70 recommendations for improving the school system.
"The question now is how and when to do these things as opposed to, 'Can they be done? Should they be done?'" said council Chairwoman Mary C. Lorsung, a west Columbia Democrat.
For the most part, school officials agreed that the vast majority of the report's recommendations should be addressed, though perhaps not in the way they are noted in the report, and certainly not all in the near future.
The board has stopped open enrollment for next year and agreed to restudy redistricting - two major recommendations of the citizens' committee.
"There needs to be an implementation plan developed with a more defined cost assessment," Hickey said about the remainder of the recommendations. "And that implementation plan is going to become the next strategic plan for the school system," similar to the existing Beyond the Year 2000 plan, which details years' worth of district goals.
Lorsung said, "It's OK that not everything get done now," but she and other council members asked the board for a more specific action schedule.
"It's important to lay out that how and when," Lorsung said. "To plan for the long term so that when the long term becomes the short term, we are where we want to be."
In a recent report to the board about the committee's recommendations, Hickey handed most of the responsibility to incoming Superintendent John O'Rourke, who begins as schools chief next month.
Sandra H. French, school board chairman, said that district administrators are preparing a more detailed plan of action to present to the board by December - after O'Rourke has had time to get settled in the job, meet with school and community leaders and assess the report.
"We really have trust and faith in our staff, and when they say they are bringing an implementation plan to us, we know they will bring it to us," French said after the meeting.
Hickey said after the meeting that the school system might be able to offer a clearer plan to the council as early as its next quarterly meeting in October.
"I assume at that October meeting, which will be John's [O'Rourke's] first meeting [with the council], you will probably see "No Child Left Behind" on that agenda again. And some of the questions that were asked today will be able to be answered more specifically then," Hickey said.
French reassured County Council members that the board will not ignore the report.
"This report will not ever be put on the shelf," she said. "This is a very live document."
Sun staff writer Larry Carson contributed to this article.