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Little Rock Seeks End to Oversight of Desegregation Efforts

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The superintendent of the Little Rock schools planned last week to seek an end to court supervision of desegregation efforts in the Arkansas district.

But the announcement troubled some school board members, who weren't told about it in advance and who were skeptical about the prospect of a speedy end to federal court oversight.

During a press conference at historic Central High School, Superintendent Henry P. Williams said a recently completed analysis showed the system has met 96 percent of its desegregation goals.

"We believe we've done those things we were obligated to as part of the desegregation plan," Mr. Williams said in an interview. "We're not going to do anything different, but we would have the freedom to modify our programs as best as we see fit."

Board members said, however, that they had yet to receive the voluminous review.

"I haven't seen it, so I can't go out and give it a glowing report," said Linda Pondexter, the board president. "I feel the board should have been informed first."

At a meeting later in the week, the board decided that Mr. Williams could proceed with filing the motion with U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright in Little Rock.

Still, "there are things we said we were going to do that we simply have not done," Ms. Pondexter said. "If he is able to prove that we have, then great."

Disagreements over the management of the 25,000-student district during the past year have split the board's support for the superintendent. Last fall, the board voted 4-3 not to extend Mr. Williams' current contract, which ends after the 1996-97 school year.

The Longest Struggle

Little Rock made history in 1957 when Gov. Orval E. Faubus mobilized the Arkansas National Guard in an attempt to thwart school integration there. In response, President Eisenhower sent federal troops to protect nine black students as they became the first to attend the traditionally all-white Central High School.

The district's current desegregation case stems from the tremendous white flight that occurred in the following decades. The Little Rock case differs from most other desegregation cases because the district itself initiated the lawsuit, and so the remedy was court approved rather than court ordered.

In 1982, the Little Rock schools sued the state and two surrounding districts in an effort to consolidate with them. Although a federal judge approved the idea, an appeals court overturned his ruling. Instead, the districts agreed on a greatly modified plan as part of a final settlement the court approved in 1992.

The final plan involved a series of programs designed to improve education in Little Rock and to attract white students from the suburbs.

As part of its settlement with Little Rock, the state agreed to pay about $73 million to subsidize the district's desegregation efforts over several years. (See Education Week, March 8, 1989.)

Mr. Williams noted last week that the district will receive the last of those payments next year, although the district still will receive some other state funds for desegregation programs.

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