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Calif. Agrees To Pay District For Desegregation Expenses

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Ending a 13-year dispute, California state officials have agreed to give the Long Beach Unified School District nearly $64 million as reimbursement for its voluntary desegregation efforts.

District officials had argued that they felt obliged to implement the policies to comply with state regulations.

"Year after year, without this funding, we have been forced to make extra budget cuts," Carl A. Cohn, the district's superintendent, said in a statement announcing the settlement of a lawsuit that was filed in 1986.

"Although it seems like a very large sum, this settlement represents real sacrifice--what our children and schools have literally done without--for more than a decade," Mr. Cohn said.

A group of 13 other California districts lost a similar case in March, when a state appeals court ruled that they had waited too long in suing the state to recover nearly $250 million in costs related to voluntary desegregation.

Two other such cases are still pending. The San Diego Unified School District is seeking about $30 million in reimbursement for desegregation-related expenses, and the Los Angeles Unified district is seeking $175 million.

Joanne Lowe, the deputy general counsel for the California Department of Education, argued last week that the San Diego and Los Angeles districts are not entitled to state funds because their desegregation programs were adopted in response to court orders, not state regulations.

Rules Stem From L.A. Case

The disputes stem from regulations the California education department issued in 1977, soon after the state supreme court found the Los Angeles district guilty of racial segregation. In an effort to keep other school systems out of court, the state ordered those districts that were racially segregated, or in danger of becoming so, to adopt a plan to alleviate or prevent the problem.

Because state officials interpreted the state constitution as requiring such efforts, they offered no reimbursement to districts that adopted desegregation plans to comply with the rules. The state did, however, help pay for desegregation in districts that had been ordered by courts to implement such remedies.

The Long Beach school system asked for state aid in 1982. The district challenged the contention that the state constitution required desegregation efforts, and it argued that it would not have undertaken them if not for the education department's rules. The district filed suit four years later.

In 1990, the state court of appeals ordered the state to reimburse the district for desegregation-related costs incurred after 1982. The district and state then began a long quarrel over the exact amount that should be paid. The state ultimately agreed to pay a $63.7 settlement in two installments, giving the district about half last month and promising the rest by September.

The state education department repealed the desegregation rules in 1991, but the 78,000-student Long Beach district continues to spend about $15 million a year on its integration program, which relies heavily on magnet schools. The district's enrollment is about 36 percent Hispanic; whites, blacks, and Asians each account for just over 20 percent.

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