Cleveland Voters Send Mixed Signals On Desegregation, Superintendent’s Job

By William Snider — November 15, 1989 5 min read

Three incumbents lost their seats on the Cleveland School Board in last week’s elections, but voters there failed to send a clear message on the major issues of the lengthy and divisive campaign: desegregation and the performance of the district’s superintendent.

Two members of an anti-busing slate won election to the board, as did two members of an opposing slate whose major plank was ending the political battles that they say have seriously hampered the board’s effectiveness in the past year.

The fifth open seat on the seven-member board was filled by an incumbent, Stanley Tolliver, who is aligned with neither of the opposing tickets.

Observers said it was too early to tell whether the new board members would be able to heal a widening rift between the current board and Superintendent of Schools Alfred D. Tutela.

The extent of that rift was underscored on Election Day, when Mr. Tutela filed a lawsuit against four board members, charging that they had violated his First Amendment right to freedom of expression by voting to forbid any involvement by him in the election campaign.

The suit challenges a resolution adopted by the board in April that prohibited the superintendent from “campaigning, giving financial or political assistance, making contributions, commenting on, endorsing, or otherwise lending support for or opposition against candidates for board membership or board office.”

Mr. Tutela said in a statement that he chose to file the suit after the end of the campaign because he did “not wish to influence the election outcome, while at the same time [did] not want to be accused of sour grapes the day after the election.”

“As my repeated attempts to pub4licly inform the board of these violations of my rights fell on deafer and deafer ears,” he said, “and as the campaign rhetoric, lies, distortions, and demagoguery became intolerable, this action needs to be taken now.”

A federal judge issued a restraining order barring the board from enforcing the resolution, and scheduled a hearing on the matter for this week.

The Cleveland board race had been hotly contested since last spring, when a slate of candidates calling itself Five Together for Quality Schools announced that it would campaign on a platform of ending the highly public disputes between the superintendent and the board. (See Education Week, April 26, 1989.)

A major issue in the feud and in the campaign was the district’s desegregation plan, which has been called one of the most successful in the nation.

Another group of candidates, calling itself All Together for Neighborhood Schools, ran on a platform that called for dismantling the plan and ending mandatory busing for desegregation.

Candidates on the anti-busing ticket charged that Mr. Tutela has delayed the school system’s compliance with the court order and prevented the system from seeking freedom from federal-court supervision.

The school chief countered the charges on Election Day by noting that he had sent the board a sworn affidavit on Sept. 15 stating that the district was in substantial compliance with the desegregation orders. The mandates cover student transportation and 13 other areas of the district’s operations.

Although the board is expected to petition for release from the court orders shortly, it is likely to run into opposition from other parties in the case, including the state board of education and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Observers said the mixed outcome of the election would probably make it difficult for the board to present a unified front to the court when it petitions to have the district declared unitary, or legally desegregated.

School-related issues also figured in other local elections across the country last week. Among other results:

In Detroit, George Vaughn, chairman of the finance committee of the school board, lost his post in a recall election in which his opponents blamed him for the district’s persistent financial problems.

Depending on the outcome of an election to fill the vacant seat, a slate of reform candidates elected last November could consolidate its majority on the board.

In Cleveland Heights, Ohio, voters rejected three school-board candidates who vowed to close the district’s two-year-old Taylor Academy, an alternative high school created by Patricia A. Ackerman, past president of the National Alliance of Black School Educators.

Critics of the academy charged that the school was designed to separate at-risk black students from the mainstream school population. Supporters of the school argued that it is becoming a national model for dealing with troubled urban youths.

In Yonkers, N.Y., voters selected a new mayor, Henry Spallone, who is an adamant foe of court-ordered desegregation of the city’s housing and schools.

In his new post, Mr. Spallone will control appointments to the city’s school board, which so far has complied with court orders in the desegregation case--the only one to date to link housing and school desegregation.

Mr. Spallone has stated publicly that he will review a court order that requires the district to build two new schools using city funds.

Only one of four Yonkers city councilmen who gained national attention for their opposition to the court’s housing-desegregation orders was defeated in his re-election bid. The four are awaiting a U.S. Supreme Court decision on whether a federal judge exceeded his authority when he levied fines against them for failing to approve a zoning measure necessary to implement the housing plan.

In Richmond, Calif., site of an ambitious new parental-choice plan, voters indicated their approval of the plan by returning two incumbents to the school board.

But an open seat on the five-member board was filled by Woodrow Snodgrass 3rd, a former district su4perintendent who raised questions about the plan during his campaign.

Later this month, Richmond will be the site of the last of a series of regional meetings on choice being held by the U.S. Education Department.

In Lowell, Mass., voters overwhelmingly approved a non-binding referendum making English the official language of the city.

The initiative was sponsored by a school-committee member who is a long-standing opponent of the school district’s efforts to desegregate its student population, which is increasingly made up of immigrants from non-English-speaking families.

In Nashua, N.H., voters declined to give the mayor and board of aldermen line-item budget authority over school expenditures.

City officials had mounted a campaign for such authority after the school board refused to rescind salary increases for top administrators that city officials claimed were excessive.

In a non-binding referendum in Palatka, Fla., voters by a 3-to-1 margin voiced their disapproval of a federal appellate-court ruling earlier this year that prohibited prayers before public-high-school football games.

A version of this article appeared in the November 15, 1989 edition of Education Week as Cleveland Voters Send Mixed Signals On Desegregation, Superintendent’s Job