Courts Bar Boston’s Bid To Halt Grants

By William Snide — March 30, 1987 5 min read

Two federal courts last week denied a move by school officials in Boston to prevent the U.S. Education Department from announcing the winners of the competition for grants from the federal magnet-schools assistance program.

After Boston’s motion for a restraining order was denied, the department announced that it had awarded nearly all of the $75 million allocated for the program in the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1. Thirty-eight of the 126 school districts that had applied for grants will receive funding.

In a lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court in Boston, lawyers for the district argued that Secretary of Education William J. Bennett should be prohibited from making the awards because he had “abused his discretion and erred as a matter of law’’ when considering Boston’s grant proposal.

District officials argued for a temporary restraining order on the basis that, once the awards were announced, no funds would remain to provide relief for Boston if it won the case on its merits.

But U.S. District Judge Rya W. Zobel, in denying the district’s motion last Monday, said Boston officials had failed to show that the case would likely succeed on its merits--one of the criteria that must be met for injunctive relief to be granted.

Boston officials immediately appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which, later the same afternoon, upheld the lower court’s ruling.

A Trip to Washington

At issue was whether department reviewers considered Boston’s court-ordered desegregation plan when they ranked the district’s proposal 84th out of the 126 applications.

The issue was first raised on May 20 when Laval S. Wilson, superintendent of schools in Boston, and John A. Nucci, president of the school committee, traveled to Washington to discuss the selections process with department officials.

In a meeting attended briefly by Mr. Bennett, the Boston officials were told that a major reason their proposal had received its relatively low ranking was that they had failed to adequately explain how a racially integrated student population would be assigned to the district’s magnet schools.

Mr. Wilson pointed out that the information was contained in the district’s 41-page desegregation plan, and, after a department employee said the reviewing committee may not have considered the plan, Bruce M. Carnes, the department’s acting undersecretary, agreed to reconsider Boston’s proposal.

“In point of fact, the person who spoke in the meeting, and I’m not going to identify that person, was wrong, was completely in error,’' Mr. Carnes, who presided over the meeting, said last week. “We have had words about that.’'

“When we ascertained that the desegregation plan was in the application that was read by the reviewers,’' he added, “and that the reviewers had, in fact, read it, then we were satisfied that the application had been treated properly.’'

Diane Weinstein, deputy general counsel for the department, explained that reviewers base their ratings on a section of the application called the “program narrative,’' and that desegregation plans are considered separately as supplemental data.

“Boston had an obligation to explain everything they thought was relevant in the program narrative, and apparently they didn’t accomplish that,’' she said. “The application instructions are very clear on that.’'

But, Mr. Wilson said, “our contention is that the district’s desegregation plan was a part of the total narrative.’'

The proposal was developed with technical assistance from the department’s regional office in Boston, he said.

“We assumed that the desegregation plan was a part of our application,’' he added, “but now I’m being told that that part of our application wasn’t even considered.’'

“If the reviewing panel had used our desegregation plan as a total part of their ranking, I’m not certain where we could have come out,’' he said.

And, he asked, “how many other applications got lower marks that maybe shouldn’t have?’'

But, Mr. Carnes said, “I’ve read a lot of applications in my day, and I read this one twice, and I’m not in the slightest troubled by the outcome on this one.’'

Without the $4 million that the district had requested, Mr. Wilson said, “there’s not enough general operating money available to go about establishing new magnets and improving the older ones that aren’t working as well as we would like.’'

The district will probably proceed with its lawsuit, he said, even though no further funding is available under the federal magnet-schools program.

“We need to understand what happened,’' Mr. Wilson said. “We need to carry on and find out where the flaw is.’'

Magnet-School Grants

The Education Department awarded magnet-school assistance grants to the following districts:

Alabama: Huntsville City Schools, $487,705. California: San Francisco Unified School District, $3,164,945; East Side Union High School District, San Jose, $823,656; San Jose Unified School District, $3,754,897; Sacramento City Unified School District, $2,956,623; Stockton Unified School District, $2,100,838. Georgia: Bibb County Board of Public Education, Macon, $432,367. Illinois: Chicago Public Schools, $4 million. Indiana: Indianapolis Public Schools, $2,739,730.

Kentucky: Jefferson County Public Schools, Louisville, $2,446,291. Louisiana: Pointe Coupee Parish School Board, New Roads, $520,070. Maryland: Prince George’s County Public Schools, Upper Marlboro, $4 million. Michigan: City of Flint School District, $2,056,958. Mississippi: Hattiesburg Municipal Separate School District, $384,695; Jackson School District, $854,360. Missouri: Kansas City School District, $3,152,612; St. Louis Public Schools, $3,868,570.

New York: Community School District No. 18, Brooklyn, $2,943,384; Community School District No. 20, Brooklyn, $2,028,880; Community School District No. 21, Brooklyn, $2,251,974; Community School District No. 22, Brooklyn, $2,679,802; Buffalo City School District, $3,255,079; Louis Armstrong Middle School, East Elmhurst, $291,407; Community School District No. 4, New York City, $1,470,256; Poughkeepsie City School District, $836,620; Rochester City School District, $3,741,593.

North Carolina: Wake County Public Schools, Raleigh, $1,905,929. Ohio: Plain Local School District, Canton, $762,515; Cincinnati City Board of Education, $1,505,137; Columbus City Schools, $2,330,470; Lorain Board of Education, Lorain, $1,743,854. Pennsylvania: Philadelphia School District, $2,916,878.

Rhode Island: Providence School Department, $294,837. Tennessee: Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, $558,003. Texas: Dallas Independent School District, $2,126,628; Houston Independent School District, $1,284,400. Virginia: Alexandria City Public Schools, $564,450; Roanoke City School District, $1,763,587.