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U.S., St. Louis Criticize Aspects Of 24-District Desegregation Plan

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The Justice Department and the city of St. Louis told a federal district judge recently that they can not support a proposal to increase the city's property tax in order to help pay for the desegregation of schools in the city and its suburbs.

The federal and municipal lawyers' comments came during hearings before U.S. District Judge William L. Hungate on a proposed voluntary desegregation plan for the 85,000-student city district and 23 neighboring suburban systems.

In a brief filed with the court late last month, the federal government questioned whether Judge Hungate has the legal authority "to issue orders which distribute the cost of the plan in some unspecified proportion between" the city of St. Louis and the state of Missouri, neither of which signed off on the agreement.

$87 Million During First Year

School district officials said last week that recent estimates indicate that the plan, which will eventually involve the transfer of 15,000 to 20,000 black students from the city to the suburbs, will cost about $87 million during its first year of imple-mentation. State officials, who also oppose the finance section of the plan, have estimated that its first-year cost will be closer to $100 million.

"The plan will involve substantial cost [and] the entities that are designated to bear the cost (the state and the taxpayers of St. Louis) have not agreed" to do so, the Justice Department noted in its brief.

Most Outrageous Affront

Lawyers for the city went further, arguing in court that Judge Hungate's approval of the finance section of the plan would be "the most outrageous affront to constitutional government since the Stamp Act," according to school-district officials.

During the first day of the hearing, Judge Hungate expressed reservations about the constitutionality of the finance section of the plan as well as a section of the proposal that would allow school districts to hire the "best qualified" teachers, regardless of race.

Judge Hungate has scheduled a hearing on May 13 to hear detailed arguments about the plan's finance and budget estimates.--tm

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