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Teachers Urge Continued Desegregation Monitoring

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As a federal judge prepares to rule on whether to end court supervision of the Cincinnati public schools' seven-year-old desegregation effort, teachers there are citing the district's financial constraints as a reason to maintain the oversight.

Claiming that budget cuts will erode desegregation gains won to date, the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers has proposed that court monitoring continue indefinitely--ensuring an opportunity for court-ordered continuation of state funding to help defray the costs of the plan.

Such aid would ease the district's budget troubles at a time when the union is negotiating a new contract.

U.S. District Court Judge Walter H. Rice is expected to decide by June 30 whether the schools have complied with the desegregation agreement and thus can be released from his supervision.

Formally, "it's the position of the school board that they have substantially complied" with the plan, John West, a lawyer for the district, said last week.

Although that position, enunciated last winter in court documents sealed or kept secret by the judge, still stands, Mr. West added, some board members have informally debated "whether or not, for the purposes of trying to get more money from the state, they should reverse their position."

Meanwhile, the teachers' union has urged the board to "admit that financial crisis will make it impossible to continue successful desegregation efforts and to ask [the court] to order continued state funding."

The cft's president, Tom Mooney, told the board May 28, "If court intervention to secure additional funding results in extending some form of court supervision over the use of those funds, so be it."

The board took no action on the issue at its meeting last week.

Earlier this year, the board approved cuts totaling $30 million over the 1991-92 and 1992-93 school years. Last week, board members agreed to begin the process of requesting state approval for the district to seek its second commercial loan this year. The conditions attached to such borrowing would entail further budget reductions of $25 million a year for 1992-93 and 1993-94, according to John Brunner, the school district's spokesman.

If voters, who defeated a tax levy last November, approve a levy this fall, he added, the second loan would not be necessary.

All sides, meanwhile, are awaiting Judge Rice's action.

"We do not presume to tell you what legal options you have; we do urge you to use your powers to the maximum extent to protect desegregation gains made to date," Mr. Mooney told the judge in a recent letter on behalf of the teachers' union.

If further cuts are made, he argued, "magnet schools will become less attractive" and teachers will flee to wealthier districts.

Apart from the desegregation issue, the union is concerned about the financial outlook for teachers, who have engaged in several4months of inconclusive contract negotiations with the district. Early this month, Mr. Mooney warned of a one-day teacher strike if there is no contract by fall.

The union president acknowledged teachers' own interests in continued court supervision of the district and any additional funds that would be forthcoming as a result. "That's obviously one reason" for the union's stance, Mr. Mooney said.

"We also don't want to see the school system destroyed," he added. "Basically, it's a question of the situation being so dire that the gains made in desegregation up to now are likely to be undone."

The federal court's supervisory role began in 1984, when the school dis8trict, the state and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People adopted a settlement to resolve a class action filed by the naacp in 1974. Approved by the court as a consent decree, the settlement, calling for the 51,000-student system to reduce segregation, was to expire on June 30 of this year.

To fulfill its duties under the settlement, the state agreed to pay half of the desegregation costs, originally projected to reach $35 million over the seven years, Mr. West said. However, he added, "our desegregation efforts have cost us $120 million."

The state may be willing to extend further aid--up to a point. Desegregation supporters in the state Senate this month won a key committee's approval of a budget bill that includes $5 million for Cincinnati's desegregation efforts over two years, with further funding possible after that, union and school officials noted. How much it would help is unclear.

"It certainly is significant and helpful and a surprise," although it "doesn't make our money problems go away," Mr. Mooney said.

Plaintiffs in the original desegregation case maintain that funding is not the main issue, said William L. Taylor, a lawyer for the naacp

"While the district has come close and has made a lot of progress," he said, "it has not reached the objectives of the agreement" in all areas.

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