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Tex. Agency Moves To Help Local Board Split by Race

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The Texas Education Agency has moved to assist in the governance of a district it declared paralyzed by a racial split on the local school board.

State Commissioner of Education Lionel R. Meno this month announced that he was appointing two monitors to guide the Beaumont Independent School District out of the gridlock, which officials attribute chiefly to a conflict between black and white board members over a student-assignment plan.

The monitors, who arrived in the district last week, are needed because the situation "represents a substantial threat to the quality of educational programs,'' Mr. Meno said in a letter announcing the action.

If the local board, after a reasonable period, remains unable to overcome its problems even with the monitors' help, Mr. Meno warned, the status of each monitor will be upgraded to "master,'' with the authority to direct the district's actions.

District Requested Help

Commissioner Meno decided to exercise his legal authority to appoint the monitors after a team of T.E.A. officials conducted an extensive on-site investigation of the 20,000-student district at the request of its outgoing superintendent, Joe Austin.

Mr. Austin had complained that the four white and three black trustees of the Beaumont district, which is under two court orders to desegregate its schools, had reached an impasse caused largely by disagreements over proposed changes in the district's student-assignment policy.

The white members had urged allowing the district's students, who now attend neighborhood schools through 3rd grade, to be able to stay in them through 6th grade.

Black trustees had described such a plan as likely to further segregate schools, and instead proposed allowing students to attend neighborhood schools only through 5th grade. They also opposed any new attendance plan that was not explicitly linked to plans to fund improvements in school facilities throughout the district.

The district's enrollment is about 60 percent black and 30 percent white.

'A High Level of Distrust'

Based on interviews with board members, district administrators, and leaders of local community groups, the T.E.A.'s investigative team last month concluded that "a high level of distrust'' continued to exist between blacks and whites in district posts and in the community.

The two sides in the board dispute acknowledge such distrust exists, and "the gap between the two sides, always evident, has widened to an almost unbreachable abyss,'' Mr. Meno said in his letter to the board.

"Both sides,'' the commissioner contended, "have become intransigent and insensitive, and have lost sight of their role as representatives of all of the children in the district.''

Mr. Meno asked the district, with the help of the monitors, to submit a plan for addressing its problems to him no later than April 2. Such a plan, he said, must include time lines for reaching such goals as the creation of an atmosphere of trust and the development of a facilities-improvement plan designed to address the needs of all students.

Board members on both sides of the dispute last week generally welcomed the help from the state.

"Maybe we just need outside ideas and outside input into solving some of our problems,'' said William S. Nantz, one of the board's white members.

The two monitors named by Mr. Meno are Nolan Estes, a professor of educational administration at the University of Texas and a former superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District, and Edward Cline, a retired former assistant superintendent of the Houston Independent School District.

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