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Appeals Court Upholds Orders For State To Share K.C. Costs

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A federal appellate court has denied five separate bids by the State of Missouri to relinquish several court-ordered responsibilities it bears in the desegregation of the Kansas City schools.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld five court orders, all issued by U.S. District Judge Russell G. Clark in 1989, against the state.

The orders upheld last month covered:

  • An increase, from $5.25 million to $11 million, in the amount of "draw down" funding the state is required to keep monthly, for use when the Kansas City school district exhausts its ability to pay desegregation expenses and must turn to funds from the state.
  • Extra payments earmarked for school-asbestos abatement.
  • A ban on the presence of a court reporter, working on behalf of the state, in otherwise informal meetings of a desegregation-monitoring committee.
  • A formula for assessing expenditures for certain students that would be more costly to the state.
  • An $8.2-milion increase in high-school construction costs, to be split by the state and district.

As a defendant in the long-running desegregation case, Jenkins v. Missouri, the state is supposed to pay for 50 percent of capital-improvement costs and 75 percent of other desegregation costs.

Because the district has been unable to pay its share, however, state officials claim that the state's portion has risen to as high as 90 percent of costs.

Legal Foundation Disqualified

Lawyers for the school district and citizens promoting desegregation welcomed the appellate action.

Arthur Benson, who represents a group of black schoolchildren seeking desegregated schools, said he was "very pleased" by the appeals-court ruling. "The state has never won an appeal from the Kansas City desegregation case," he said last week. "This is probably not the end of it--but it should be."

"We're very, very pleased," said Patricia Brannan, a Washington-based lawyer for the school district. "Obviously, it permits progress to continue on those aspects of the desegregation plan."

A Missouri assistant attorney general said, however, that the court's ruling came as no surprise and that the state was considering further appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In its decision, the appellate panel also affirmed another lower-court judgment, in which Judge Clark criticized and disqualified lawyers from the Landmark Legal Foundation, a public-interest law firm, for representing clients on opposite sides of the desegregation suit.

The appellate court noted that Landmark not only represented citizens challenging taxes intended to fund desegregation, but also families seeking greater access of black children to magnet schools.

Such conduct, the appellate judges said, "presented a genuine conflict of interest."

"We believe our representation was both proper and ethical," responded Jerald Hill, president of Landmark, which has been involved in court cases involving school choice, vouchers, and desegregation.

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