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Tirozzi Sees Cross-District Plans as Key to Integration

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Contending that previous efforts to achieve racial balance in the state's schools have failed, Connecticut's school chief has urged that the board of education be authorized to mandate interdistrict desegregation plans.

In a report presented to the board last week, the commissioner, Gerald N. Tirozzi, noted that more than 80 percent of Connecticut's minority students are concentrated in 14 of its 165 districts.

He proposed that the board provide financial incentives to encourage neighboring districts to cooperate voluntarily to reduce racial imbalances.

However, the report added that "to ensure that solutions are found and progress is made," the board "should be empowered to impose a mandatory desegregation plan at such time as it might judge the voluntary approach, in whole or in part, to be ineffectual."

Gary Orfield, professor of political science at the University of Chicago and a prominent expert on school desegregation, called the proposal "very courageous." He noted that it is unusual for a state department, rather than a court, to recommend desegregation across district lines.

He cited as one other example of such action a report by the Minnesota Department of Education. Presented to the board last month, it proposed that the state provide $3 million to encourage urban and suburban districts to cooperate in developing desegregation plans, but stopped short of recommending that the state mandate such plans.

Connecticut has a responsibility to act before courts intercede, Mr. Tirozzi argued in his report.

"Unless we aggressively seek the cooperation of Connecticut's citizens, we run the risk of having a significant percentage of the population isolated in 14 districts," he said in an interview. "That flies in the face of the 'separate-but-equal' doctrine being unconstitutional."

"The state has to become a full partner," he added. "This is long overdue. This is the responsible position to take in this matter."

The state board is expected to hold a series of hearings over the next few months before voting on whether to submit the proposal to the legislature. Some lawmakers have already voiced opposition to the plan.

"This report will clearly bring into focus what the issue is," Mr. Tirozzi said. "We are asking citizens to have a serious dialogue."--rr

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