Missouri, Kansas City Offer Court Opposing Desegregation Plans

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The state of Missouri and the Kansas City school board have offered a federal district judge drastically different proposals for the desegregation of the predominantly black central-city school district.

In papers filed with the court on Jan. 17, the city school board proposed that its schools be consolidated with those in 11 predominantly white suburban school districts. Countering the nationwide trend toward the adoption of voluntary desegregation techniques, the plan anticipates the mandatory reassignment of a significant percentage of students in the newly constituted 118,000-student district, according to a board member.

Proposal Rejected

The state, on the other hand, rejected the consolidation proposal as "overly broad" and offered a plan restricted to the city schools only. It features minimal mandatory student reassignment and a variety of educational improvements in schools that are now 90-percent black.

According to officials involved in the dispute, U.S. District Judge Russell Clark is expected to schedule hearings on the two opposing plans within the month. He may then choose one plan over the other, or he could order both sides back to the drawing board, they suggested.

The plans filed by the state and the school board were ordered by Judge Clark last September after he found both liable for segregation in the Kansas City district, which comprises only the central part of the city. In April 1984, he dismissed charges against the 11 suburban districts, ruling that the black plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit had failed to show that the districts had acted in a manner that contributed to student segregation in the city. The case is Jenkins v. Missouri. (See Education Week, April 11 and Sept. 26, 1984.)

The city district enrolls 36,000 students, of whom 68 percent are black. Twenty-four of the district's 68 schools have black enrollments at or above 90 percent. Minority enrollment in the suburban districts, which enroll a total of 82,000 students, averages about 7 percent, ranging from almost 20 percent in Hickman Hills to just over 2 percent in Lee's Summit.

Details of Plans

Under the city school board's plan, scheduled to go into effect with the 1986-87 school year, minority enrollment in all schools in the consolidated district would range from 20 percent to 40 percent. The district would be subdivided into three regions, each containing a section of the existing city district, and would be governed by a single school board and administered by a single superintendent.

All costs of desegregation, as ordered by Judge Clark, would be borne by the state. According to James Borthwick, the city board's lawyer, in the upcoming school year the state would be required to provide $4 million for planning, $25 million to bring city school buildings up to code, and $31 million for the improvement of educational programs in the city.

Unlike the city board's plan, the state's proposal focuses almost exclusively on schools in the city that have black enrollments exceeding 90 percent, said Bruce Farmer, an assistant state attorney general.

Under the plan, he said, attendance zones would be redrawn to reduce black enrollments in those schools to within 10 percentage points of 72 percent. The plan also proposes various educational improvements, such as early-childhood and extended-year programs, in the predominantly black schools.

Sharp Differences

State and city officials have sharply criticized each other's proposals--the state attorney general calling the city plan "a raid on the treasury" and the city school board president calling the state plan ''a fairy tale."

"We think the city's plan is much too broad in that it goes beyond the scope of Judge Clark's order by bringing in the suburbs," said Mr. Farmer. He added that the Kansas City board failed to take into account the judge's order to pay particular attention to cost factors in fashioning a plan.

But according to Sue Fulson, ael5lmember of the Kansas City board, city school officials adopted the metropolitan desegregation plan in spite of Judge Clark's dismissal of the suburban defendants in the case because it offered the only "realistic" hope for ending segregation in the city.

"The crux of the issue is how you define desegregation," Ms. Fulson said in an interview last week. "The state wants to bus black kids in schools that are now 90-percent black to schools that are 82-percent black. That's not much in anyone's book."

"Our position is that the judge found that the effects of state-mandated segregation continue to exist throughout the metropolitan area, and thus a metropolitan remedy is justified," added Mr. Borthwick. "Secondly, the judge determined that the state is the primary constitutional wrongdoer in this case, and therefore has the duty to take whatever steps are necessary to remedy the wrong, even if it involves redrawing school-district boundary lines."

On the question of costs, Mr. Borthwick added; "The plan will be expensive, but the state never performed its duty to desegregate and it's about time for it to begin."

Alternative to Busing

In a related development, a report published this month by a public-policy research group in Washington suggests there is "compelling evidence that desegregation works well if it is done well."

However, the group's report notes, civil-rights advocates should consider "high-quality black-dominated schools as an attractive alter-native" to mandatory busing.

"If demographics make it impossible materially to reduce racial isolation, or if--more controversially--desegregation will not move beyond merely reducing racial isolation at the school level, then quality education is a plausible alternative," writes Jennifer Hochschild, assistant professor of politics and public policy at Princeton University, in Thirty Years After Brown, a report issued by the Joint Center for Political Studies.

Strategies Critiqued

According to Ms. Hochschild, "powerful and widespread black support'' for such schools "is a strong argument in their favor." She adds, however, that black-dominated schools present the risk of isolating black children from a white-dominated world, and that "since whites tend to control resources, black schools are in grave danger of being shortchanged." Nevertheless, she concludes that a move to black-dominated schools is "risky but not unacceptable."

The "worst possible strategy for achieving successful desegregation'' is that promoted by the Reagan Administration, Ms. Hochschild also argues.

First, by seeking to rescind successful, publicly accepted mandatory desegregation plans, the Administration causes opposition to desegregation to "skyrocket," she suggests. Second, by folding the Emergency School Aid Act into the federal education block-grants program in 1981, the Administration effectively abolished "the only federal program to aid voluntary, quality desegregation."

Vol. 04, Issue 19

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