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Suburban Milwaukee Districts Rap Desegregation Plan

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Ten suburban Milwaukee school districts vowed last week to resist efforts by the city school board to force the "involuntary busing" of area students.

They also promised to use "all of the resources at their disposal" to oppose the creation of a regional school planning council, which they claim Milwaukee school officials plan to use as the vehicle to form a single metropolitan school district.

The suburban districts' adopted those positions following a decision by the Milwaukee school board last October requiring them to decide by Dec. 15 whether to join with the city in a voluntary desegregation plan. Lawyers for the suburban school boards said city school officials indicated they will seek a federal court order forcing them to join the plan if they refuse to do so voluntarily.

Nineteen suburban districts are currently involved in a student-exchange program with the city. Approximately 1,200 black students from the city are bused to the suburban schools and 200 white suburban students are bused to city schools under this arrangement.

A spokesman for the Milwaukee schools said the city school board would like to expand the program to include 29 suburban districts, which are spread out over four counties, and eventually to transfer approximately 5,200 students by the 1986-87 school year.

The spokesman said that by expanding the student-exchange program to that level, the city school board would remain in compliance with a 1976 court-approved negotiated settlement requiring it to maintain black enrollment at between 25 percent and 60 percent in its elementary schools and between 20 percent and 60 percent in its high schools.

At present, approximately 48 percent of the city schools' 87,600 students are black, 45 percent are white, and 7 percent are members of other races. The suburban districts' student population is almost entirely white.

In late October, the Milwaukee school board sent letters to the school-board presidents and superintendents of the outlying districts requiring that they reply by last week to a five-point voluntary-desegregation proposal.

According to lawyers for the 10 suburban districts not involved in the existing cross-district busing plan, their clients found two provisions particularly irritating.

The first would require them to ensure that student exchanges between the suburbs and city would result in a stable enrollment within the city schools by the 1986-87 school year of 45-percent black students, 45-percent white, 10-percent other races. The lawyers said that by their reading, the proposal would allow Milwaukee officials to seek mandatory student reassignments between the city and suburbs in order to maintain those levels if voluntary measures proved insufficient.

'Metropolitan Planning Council'

The second provision called for the creation of a "metropolitan school planning council" to be "the ultimate authority with respect to decisions affecting student movement, the educational planning necessary to make such movement successful, and provisions for school space."

Because representation on this panel would be proportional to the student enrollment in the 30 districts, lawyers for the suburban districts said, Milwaukee officials would "clearly control it."

"Most suburban districts have a very hard time distinguishing between that body and a metropolitan school district," said William J. Mulligan, one of the lawyers representing the 10 outlying districts. "There would be very little decisionmaking left for these school boards to do."

Early last week, the Milwaukee board met to discuss whether to extend the Dec. 15 deadline that it imposed on the suburban districts in light of such complaints. By the end of the evening, however, they had voted to re-endorse their original position.

That decision was viewed by the 10 suburban districts as "unfortunate and shortsighted."

The Milwaukee school board "continues to direct its attention to pursuing costly, disruptive, and needless litigation instead of expanding voluntary integration and improving the quality of education," the district leaders said in a prepared statement.

"In the event that the Milwaukee school board chooses to commence litigation," they continued, "these suburban districts state their intent to coordinate their efforts and to defend themselves with all of the resources at their disposal, and they will resist all unilateral efforts by the Milwaukee school board to force any system of involuntary busing upon Milwaukee and suburban students or to impose any metropolitan school district."

Spokesmen for the city district said the board will decide next month whether to file suit against suburban districts that reject the proposal.

Lawyers for both the city and suburban schools declined to comment on whether the city school board can prove that the suburban districts in some way discriminated against city students, and thus force the imposition of a mandatory cross-district integration plan.

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