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Court Rules State Must Finance St. Louis Desegregation Plan

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A federal appeals court ruled last week that most parts of a landmark voluntary desegregation plan for St. Louis and 23 suburban school districts should be financed by the state of Missouri.

In an opinion handed down on Feb. 8, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held that because the state has been found liable for student segregation in St. Louis, it should be required to pay for the voluntary transfer of students between the city and its suburbs.

The court rejected the arguments ad-vanced by the state and by the Reagan Administration, which contended that Missouri should not have to cover the cost of interdistrict transfers because it has never been found guilty of contributing to student segregation in the suburban school districts.

A spokesman for the 60,500-student St. Louis district said that the system's leaders are generally pleased with the court's decision. But Missouri Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, saying he believes the decision "is just plain wrong," announced that the state will file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.

A spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department said the agency had no comment on the decision.

The court's opinion requires the state to bear the entire cost of student transportation between the city and suburban districts and the cost of the establishment and maintenance of magnet schools in the city.

It also upheld U.S. District Judge William L. Hungate's July 5 order that the state and the city split the cost of educational improvements in city schools that will remain predominantly black. About 30,000 students will continue to attend such schools.

But in its 8-to-1 opinion, the appeals panel held that the state does not have to finance the creation and maintenance of magnet schools in the suburban districts in St. Louis County. The court also said the state does not have to cover the cost of student transfers between suburban districts or the cost of educational improvements in city schools maintaining an acceptable racial balance.

The court said it rejected these aspects of the voluntary desegregation plan approved by Judge Hungate because they will not help to remedy the vestiges of state-sanctioned student segregation in the city.

City school officials said these aspects of the opinion would substantially ease the financial burden on the state for financing the plan.

State officials previously estimated that the plan as approved by Judge Hungate would cost them about $45 million annually.

The appeals panel also allowed the city school district to resume recruiting black students to participate in the plan. Last fall, the panel handed down an order prohibiting such efforts, pending its decision in the case, Liddell v. Missouri and City of St. Louis.

The court, however, also said that the total number of student transfers could not exceed 6,000 in the coming school year, and that this number should be increased in in-crements of 3,000 annually until the total number of black city students attending suburban schools reaches 15,000. In the current school year, about 2,300 black students from the city are attending suburban schools and about 400 white students from the suburbs are attending city schools.

The court also upheld Judge Hungate's order that a city property-tax rollback required by the passage of a voter initiative in 1982 be postponed this year to help the city meet its responsibilities under the finance section of the plan. The postponement has provided the city with an esti-mated $6 million in additional revenues this year.

The court, however, also said that the city would have to exhaust all other financing alternatives next year before it would agree to postpone the tax rollback for a second time.

Last November, St. Louis voters turned down a $63.5-million bond issue that was called for by Judge Hungate as part of the desegregation plan. The appeals panel's decision requires the city "to go back to the voters with another bond issue soon," a city school-district official said.

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