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Court Lets Stand Rulings Requiring Missouri To Pay Desegregation Costs

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By Mark Walsh

WASHINGTON--The U.S. Supreme Court last week let stand lower court rulings requiring the State of Missouri to pay asbestos- removal costs and extra expenses for a new magnet high school as part of a desegregation plan for the Kansas City, Mo., school district.

The High Court's decision marks the second time in three years that the Justices have declined to consider the scope of the Kansas City desegregation plan, considered by many experts to be one of the most far-reaching in the nation.

The Court's brief order on denying review of the case, Missouri v. Jenkins (Case No. 91-324), was issued on Nov. 18.

The long-running case has in recent years generated appeals of four separate issues to the High Court.

Last year, the Justices voided a tax increase that U.S. District Judge Russell G. Clark had imposed directly on Kansas City taxpayers to pay for the desegregation plan, but they said the judge could order the district to raise taxes. (See Education Week, April 26, 1990.)

Because of past state laws requiring school segregation by race, the state has been held partially liable for the costs of the Kansas City desegregation plan.

In the most recent appeal, the state asked the High Court to review two orders from Judge Clark concerning asbestos removal at numerous schools in the district and cost overruns at the new magnet high school. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit had upheld both orders earlier this year.

The asbestos-removal costs were incurred as part of a plan to renovate Kansas City schools in an effort to attract a larger number of white students. Judge Clark ruled that the state should share asbestos removal costs with the district.

"The expansive nature of the desegregation remedy allows the lower courts, under the guise of enforcing a desegregation remedy, to require the State of Missouri to share in the funding of a generalized obligation that Congress has imposed by statute on local education agencies," the state argued in its papers urging the High Court to review the order.

Magnet-School Costs

The magnet-school issue concerned Judge Clark's approval of an $8-million cost overrun for a new "classical Greek" magnet high school designed to lure suburban students into the district.

The facility, which includes an Olympic-size swimming pool, racquetball courts, and other amenities, will end up costing $32 million, the state said.

The state asked the High Court to review the specific orders, as well as, once again, the entire scope of the desegregation remedy, whose cost "will exceed $1.2 billion when fully implemented, with no apparent endpoint in sight." But both the school district and the private plaintiffs in the case urged the High Court not to grant review, arguing, among other points, that the plan is successfully drawing white suburban students into the city's magnet schools.

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