Last-Minute Deal Ends 26-Year-Old Dayton Desegregation Case

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A 26-year-old desegregation dispute in Dayton came to a close last week, after the two sides in the case agreed on a new plan to improve academic programs and school facilities there.

The move, which ends cross-town busing and redirects the money that paid for it to academics, lifted the last remaining desegregation order in Ohio.

Under the settlement, the 20,800-student district will receive $32.3 million from the state over five years. Of that amount, $25 million will be spent to improve facilities, and $7.3 million will be put into a contingency fund for academic improvements specified in the agreement.

The Dayton school board and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had struggled for months to resolve the case. The agreement followed a long weekend of negotiations and came a day before the case was set to go to trial April 15.

Assistant Superintendent Steven M. Puckett of the Ohio Department of Education called the plan "an opportunity to bring back confidence in Dayton public schools."

"We're very happy with the agreement, we feel it's historic, and we avoided a very divisive hearing," said Mr. Puckett, who was a chief negotiator in the case.

The agreement "will force us as a community to own responsibility for our schools," said Dayton superintendent Jerrie Bascome McGill. The U.S. District Court in Dayton accepted the agreement last week.

Academic Priorities

The federal courts have had a hand in the Dayton schools since 1972, when the NAACP filed suit. The busing order had been in place since 1976.

The school board first asked U.S. District Judge Walter H. Rice to lift the order last February. But the NAACP expressed concern that African-American students were still suffering from the effects of years of segregation. In December, Judge Rice appointed John Garland, the president of Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, to mediate. Anticipating a long trial, the state education department, moved $850,000 into a special fund for legal fees

The agreement that emerged is expected to let most students return to neighborhood schools within two years, in a city where housing patterns tend to be segregated.

It eliminates race as a criterion for public school choice in the district, said Jill Moberley, a spokeswoman for the Dayton schools. The district was still ironing out details of the agreement last week.

Academically, the Dayton schools have struggled in recent years. The state classifies Dayton as an "academic emergency" district because it ranks in the lowest percentile on state assessments.

The settlement plan says that in coming years, the district must, among other things, align literacy and mathematics standards, curriculum, and assessments; offer more professional development for teachers and administrators; increase communication with families and open new parent-resource centers in elementary schools; and improve learning conditions.

Vol. 21, Issue 32, Page 20

Published in Print: April 24, 2002, as Last-Minute Deal Ends 26-Year-Old Dayton Desegregation Case
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