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Calif. Court Agrees To Hear Appeal in Richmond Case

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The California Supreme Court last week rejected a bid by Gov. Pete Wilson to block a $19-million state loan needed to keep schools in the Richmond Unified School District from closing early for the year.

The state high court, however, agreed to hear the Governor's appeal of a Contra Costa County Superior Court's ruling that held the state responsible for keeping open the financially troubled district.

Had the emergency stay sought by the Governor been granted, the 31,000-student district likely would have been forced to close immediately. The supreme court's decision, signed by Chief Justice Malcolm M. Lucas and the court's six other members, ensured that schools there will remain open until June.

Franz R. Wisner, a spokesman for the Governor, described Mr. Wilson as pleased that the supreme court agreed to hear the case directly without requiring that it first go through the state court of appeals.

The Governor's primary concern, Mr. Wisner said, is not the loan itself, which Mr. Wilson no longer8plans to fight, but the precedent set by Superior Court Judge Ellen S. James when she ruled that the state was responsible for ensuring that the debt-laden district stay open.

"The ultimate question here is, who is accountable for the management or, in the case of Richmond, the mismanagement of school dollars?" Mr. Wisner asked.

"Of course the school district has to be responsible," Mr. Wisner said. "Otherwise, what is to prevent every school district in California from spending far more money than they have and then requesting that the state bail them out?"

Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig and State Controller Gray Davis had urged the court not to block the $19-million loan that they had made to the district in response to the superior-court ruling, which came two days before the district had planned to close six weeks early for lack of funds.

Although Mr. Honig had no objection to the supreme court taking up the case, he argued in a letter to the court that blocking the loan before hearing the case would be unfair and disruptive to the district.--p.s.

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