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Published in Print: February 10, 1999, as St. Louis, Kansas City Move Closer to the End Of Desegregation Cases

St. Louis, Kansas City Move Closer to the End Of Desegregation Cases

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The St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo., school systems have moved a step closer to resolving their decades-long desegregation cases, which are among the most closely watched in the nation.

In St. Louis, voters last week removed a crucial obstacle to wrapping up the city's 27-year-old court battle by approving a local sales-tax increase to help replace revenue that will be lost when state desegregation aid ends.

Without passage of the tax hike of two-thirds of a penny, which won approval from an estimated 63 percent of voters, a tentative settlement reached in the case last month was virtually certain to have collapsed.

"I think it's a historical vote," said Cleveland Hammonds, the superintendent of the 47,000-student St. Louis system. "Not only did they approve it, but they approved it by an overwhelming margin."

The tax increase is expected to generate about $23 million a year for the city schools, and will trigger an estimated $40 million annually in state aid. That will still leave the district $6 million to $10 million short of its current revenues, Mr. Hammonds said, because of the loss of court-ordered state subsidies. But in part because of savings from the lifting of court oversight, the superintendent called the cuts in the district's nearly $419 million budget "doable."

Under a state law aimed at ending the case, the state will no longer be obligated to uphold its end of the financial bargain if a federal judge does not approve the St. Louis settlement by March 15. Passage of the tax increase means that progress toward that goal remains on track.

State Freed in K.C.

In Kansas City, meanwhile, a federal judge has released the state from its obligations in that city's 22-year-old court case. Under a 1996 agreement, the state had agreed to pay a final $314 million in desegregation aid over three years, an IOU the state paid off in December.

In his Jan. 28 ruling, the judge in the Kansas City case also set a date of Jan. 3 of next year for a hearing on whether the district should be declared unitary, meaning that it has been sufficiently desegregated to be freed from court supervision.

Vol. 18, Issue 22, Page 10

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