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Denver School Board Seeks Racial Balance Without Busing

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The Denver School Board is trying to alter significantly the effects of a landmark 1973 court case that paved the way for school desegregation in the North and established the principle of "district-wide" busing.

The board, clearly divided over the amount of busing needed to comply with the federal desegregation order, reflected that split in the two new plans recently submitted to the presiding federal judge.

Liberals vs. Conservatives

The differences in the plans, according to board member William R. Schroeder, reflect the basic schism in the board "between liberals and conservatives" that is most marked in the debate over busing.

On Oct. 14 the board voted 4-3 to recommend a plan written by Mr. Schroeder over one developed during the past year through the efforts of an ad hoc committee of parents, teachers, and school-board members, and the district's administrative staff.

Mr. Schroeder's plan, which represents the desires of the board's new conservative majority, is an attempt, he says, to achieve racial balance satisfactory to the court through means other than mandatory busing, particularly by encouraging the re-establishment of "strong neighborhood schools."

"With my plan they will still get bused, but only because they want to," Mr. Schroeder said.

Mr. Schroeder's plan would:

Assign students to the "closest school" of their choice on a first-come, first-served basis.

Allow children to stay in their present schools if they wish to do so.

Allow "open-enrollment" practices, meaning that a pupil could attend any school in the district as long as there is space available. (Transportation for such students would be provided by the district.)

Require that a pupil not be allowed to change schools for one year after he has made his selection.

Establish "magnet schools" with special programs to attract pupils to schools that might not otherwise achieve racial integration.

Federal Control

In 1973 the Supreme Court found in Keyes v. School District No. 1 that the entire system must be desegregated because school officials had been found guilty of intentional segregation in some areas. Keyes also is considered a central case in desegregation law because it was the first in which the Court held that a officials in a state outside the South, although the state had never had formal segregation laws on the books, might be held accountable for intentional separation of the races.

The school board was unable by 1974 to devise an acceptable desegregation plan, so the U.S. District Court in Denver brought in an outside consultant.

Since that time desegregation has been in the hands of the federal district judge, who instructed the school board last year to construct a "unitary, non-racial plan" which would allow him to hand control back to the local board.

'Pairing' System

Under the current plan, established in 1974 by Judge Richard P. Matsch of the U.S. District Court, a system of "pairing" elementary schools is used to help desegregate city schools.

Also under the current plan, all children attending the paired schools go to one of them for grades 1-3 and to the other for grades 4-6.

Busing patterns are set to achieve proper6racial formulas in the paired schools. As the formula now stands, the court requires that the "Anglo" population of a school be between 25 and 55 percent. Mr. Schroeder's plan would modify the current plan by allowing the current "pairing system" to be stopped whenever the "Anglo percentage" fits a wider acceptable margin--20 to 63 percent. Ending the pairing system would allow children to attend all grades at one school.

The board's alternate plan, which Mr.Schroeder's resolution asks the court to consider if it finds his plan ("the desirable plan") unacceptable, is a continuation of the present pairing program, with a few modifications.

Alternate Plan

According to a spokesman for the school district, the alternate plan, called "Denver Public Schools: A Unitary School System" would decrease busing by about 2,500 pupils; increase the number of "neighborhood walk-in" schools; close nine elementary schools and one junior high; and shift the racial balance further by establishing some new "middleschools" and four-year high schools, among other things.

The three losing board members were "outraged" by Mr. Schroeder's proposal, according to local newspaper reports, because it will be presented to federal judge Richard P. Matsch as "the desirable plan."

"The problem," said board member Marion J. Hammond, "is that once again this proves the school board is not able to handle the schools. We came up with a plan that took a year and a half to draw up and then they [the anti-busing majority] voted in a neighborhood plan that took a month to come up with. This will be chaos.

"They are trying to fulfill a campaign promise that they will bring back the neighborhood school," Mr. Hammond added.

"This will allow every school kid to go wherever he wants. It will result in 100% minority or majority schools, black or white."

Mr. Schroeder says the general perception that his plan is "hasty" is a misconception. "This same proposal was presented to the board several different times and they would not pass it. Now we are four anti-busing, threepro-busing. Franklin Mullen, the new member, made it clear which side he was on. The conservative side pushed very hard for his election." Before court-ordered busing began, the Denver system had some 96,000 children, 66 percent of whom were white. Now the system has only 60,000 pupils, 40 percent of whom are white.

Busing a 'Necessary Evil'

"I personally believe that busing was a very necessary evil," Mr. Schroeder said. "It was needed to encourage people to desegregate. But if we continue to go down we'll end up another Chicago or Detroit."

Mr. Hammond says that Mr. Schroeder's implication that there has been a tremendous "white flight" because of busing is misleading. These shifts in pupil numbers and composition "are no different from most urban areas," he says.

A spokesman for Denver school superintendent Joseph Brzeinski said the superintendent, who helped draft the alternate plan, does not wish to comment further on the matter at this time.

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