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Milwaukee Offers Desegregation Settlement to State, 22 Suburbs

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The Milwaukee Public Schools last week presented the state of Wisconsin and 22 suburban Milwaukee County school districts with a comprehensive plan aimed at settling a two-year-old metropolitan-desegregation lawsuit.

Chief among the plan's provisions is the proposed adoption and funding by the state legislature of a variety of school improvements recommended by the state's Commission on the Quality of Education in Metropolitan Milwaukee Public Schools.

The commission--formed in 1984 by Gov. Anthony S. Earl and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Herbert J. Grover--has called for smaller class sizes, the expansion of kindergarten and early-childhood-education programs, improved counseling for "at-risk" students, new programs to enhance parental involvement in the schools, and other reforms. The panel's recommendations were presented to the legislature last week. (See related story on this page.)

In addition, the Milwaukee school board's settlement offer would require the predominantly white sub-urban districts to guarantee that minority transfer students from the city represent 20 percent of the suburban schools' total enrollments by 1991. In return, the city would drop its charges of illegal segregation against the county districts.

Under a voluntary, state-funded desegregation program, approximately 1,300 black students from Milwaukee currently attend predominantly white suburban schools, and 200 white suburban students attend city schools, according to recent statistics. The program, known as Chapter 220, promotes interdistrict desegregation by guaranteeing that no district will lose state aid by sending its students to other districts. The city schools' settlement plan asks the state to increase funding for the program.

'Fair and Just'

Milwaukee officials presented the settlement proposal to representatives of the suburban districts and the state during a Jan. 8 meeting. In an accompanying document, city officials called the plan "a fair and just settlement of the litigation and an opportunity for all of us to work together to improve the quality of education and to reduce racial isolation throughout the metropolitan area."

The city schools filed suit against the suburban districts and the state in June 1984, charging them with taking actions that contributed to segregation in the 86,000-student city district, which is about 48 percent black and 45 percent white.

In papers filed with the federal district judge hearing the case, city officials argued that without the elimination of "the racially dual metropolitan-wide structure of public education," they could not abide by a 1979 court-approved settlement designed to maintain racial balance in the Milwaukee schools. (See Education Week, Aug. 22, 1984.)

Progress Seen

Many of the suburban school districts had reacted harshly to the Milwaukee board's 1984 lawsuit, with some of them vowing to use "all of the resources" at their disposal to resist it.

But in an interview last week, a lawyer representing seven of the districts indicated that several changes included in the city's new plan might make it more palatable to his clients.

"There will be a concerted effort to see if this can form the basis of a settlement," said Warren Kruenen, the districts' lawyer. "It may be a bit premature to give the precise reaction, because the school boards are just getting these documents. But, in general, one can say that the initial reaction by the districts is that some progress has been made with this proposal."

Proposal's Provisions

Under the proposed settlement, the suburban districts would be required to set aside 20 percent of their seats for minority transfer students from the city. The city district would set aside 10 percent of its seats for white suburban students.

The proposal also calls for the establishment of a nine-member coor-dinating council to promote voluntary student transfers, devise a uniform transportation policy, and oversee a new minority-employee-recruitment office for the metropolitan area's schools.

Milwaukee's plan would also require the suburban schools to support legislation to implement the state commission's recommendations. In addition, it would require the state to set up a housing-desegregation center and to adopt federal fair-employment guidelines.

"I want to emphasize that we need to move expeditiously," said John J. Petersburg, secretary and business manager of the Milwaukee district, in a memorandum accompanying the offer. He asked the suburban districts to respond by the end of this month.

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