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Published in Print: April 17, 1991, as Minn. Districts Adopt Joint Voluntary Integration Plan

Minn. Districts Adopt Joint Voluntary Integration Plan

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School officials in St. Paul and Roseville, an adjacent suburb, have approved a voluntary integration plan. Ratified by their school boards early this month, the agreement between the Minnesota school districts calls for the creation of a joint magnet elementary school by the fall of 1992 and a magnet high school the following year.

The effort is slated to begin this summer with multicultural awareness training for school staff members and will continue this fall with activities including joint field trips, choirs, and clubs for students.

The entire program, however, is contingent upon the state legislature's approval of $4.2 million in start-up funds at a time when the state is mired in a budget crisis. Legislation to provide the funds was still pending late last week.

"A Matter of the Heart"
The plan, which evolved from discussions between the two school systems in 1988, is the product of extensive community involvement, including more than 50 meetings, officials of the two districts said.

They added that the effort springs from a firm belief in the value of integrated education, rather than from fears that courts would order a desegregation plan if one was not adopted voluntarily.

"We didn't pursue it on that basis," said Will Antell, manager of state education department's equal education opportunities section, which assisted in the plan's development. "We took it on the basis of what's good and what we think young people will need."

"We believe this is truly a matter of the heart," added Kenneth E. Runberg, director of administration and community education for the Roseville district. "It's not just intellectual."

"We see it as a student opportunity" to develop the sensitivity necessary for life in an multicultural world, he said.

Nearly 90 percent of Roseville's 6,300 students are white, with Asians constituting about 6 percent of the schools' enrollment, blacks about 3 percent, and other minorities about 1 percent, he said.

By comparison, about 17 percent of St. Paul's 35,000 students are Asian, 16 percent are black, 5 percent are Hispanic, and 2 percent are Native American, according to Curman L. Gaines, the district's associate superintendent.

"We're kidding ourselves if we don't prepare our kids now" for a racially diverse world, he said.

Community Support

Public hearings on the plan, especially those held during the last three months, produced "a wide range of opinion," Mr. Runberg said.

Some "feel it's the worst kind of thing that could ever be considered. Others feel it's the best thing the district could be involved in." But most residents are generally supportive, he said.'

Mr. Runberg attributed the absence of strong opposition to the fact that "the plan is voluntary down to the family level."

"It's clearly a choice," he said.

"This is what both communities said that they wanted," Mr. Gaines added. "It's voluntary. They said, 'Let's go for it."

When citizens are involved in decisionmaking, "then their hearts are in it," Mr. Runberg said.

Mandatory integration "has not worked out that well," he said, noting that the two districts carefully studied other metropolitan areas' desegregation plans before drafting their own. "A lot of forced busing, for example, has been on the backs of minorities and their children. There's a lot of negatives to forcing $ it."

Legislature's Decision

The plan's fate, however, rests with the legislature.

"The ball is now in the court of the legislature," which has encouraged voluntary integration, Mr. Antell L said. "I don't think they'll shut the door."

"I'm confident that even if we don't get the full funding, they will fund us with enough to get started," Mr. Gaines said.

State Representative Ken Nelson, the Democrat who chairs the House panel that oversees school funding, said he was confident "that we're go ing to provide some monies for such agreements--I would think about $200,000 to get it started."

He noted the plan is the most comprehensive of its kind brought to the legislature's attention.

"It's a precise request, which means that they're more serious," he said. "And it's mutual between the districts. We're very likely to help it out."

"Philosophically, I can't imagine there's any opposition in the legislature," added State Representative L Becky Kelso, another member of the finance panel. "I'd hope we could come up with the money." Mr. Runberg said he hopes that other suburban districts can be persuaded to join in voluntary integration efforts with neighboring cities.

He noted that the Roseville district and only one other of the approximately 50 districts ringing the Twin Cities are moving toward voluntary efforts.

"If voluntary integration is going to work, it's going to take more than two suburban school districts," he said.

Vol. 10, Issue 30, Page 05

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