Leader Blues

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

TOP STORY >> Ending aid to county schools is proposed

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Calling the offer the most generous any state has made in ending a desegregation agreement, State Atty. Gen. Dustin McDaniel Tuesday proposed phasing out the state’s desegregation funding to the tune of $392 million over seven years.

In letters sent to attorneys for Pulaski County Special School District, Little Rock School District and North Little Rock School District, McDaniel wrote:

“This is a good offer that will give the districts financial stability and allow them to move beyond this litigation so that they may focus on educating students and preparing the next generation of doctors, teachers and scientists.”

“Moreover, the state will almost certainly save millions of dollars by resolving this matter now, as opposed to waiting until the matter is disposed of by both the trial and appellate courts.”

Currently, the state subsidizes the desegregation agreement to the tune of about $68.8 million a year.

“I think we’re past the billion-dollar mark,” said Will Bond, who sponsored the law assuring a phase-out of funds rather than sudden cessation.

“The judge would still have to approve the settlement,” Bond said Tuesday. “In my opinion that is generous. The school districts need to really get this case over with. We’re a decade late. It’s not time to get it wrapped up, it’s past time.”

U.S. Dist. Judge Brian Miller is slated to take over the desegregation case at a 10 a.m. hearing Sept. 30.

The desegregation money is used in part for transportation of students, funding majority-to-minority transfers and magnet school programs to help achieve racial balance across the three districts.

The law provides that the payment under the agreement must not exceed the total amount spent on desegregation-related expenses during the 2008-2009 school year.

This most recent year, the three districts split $68.8 million.

McDaniel’s seven-year phase-out would fund the agreement approximately like this: $68.8 million the first year, then in subsequent years, $64 million, $60 million, $56 million, $52 million, $48 million and the last year, about $44 million.

The attorney general also asked for an accounting on how the funds would be spent.

Neither PCSSD nor North Little Rock responded to the state’s previous offer, but Little Rock said it wanted funding to drop only to 90 percent in the eighth year.

The letter was delivered to PCSSD attorney Sam Jones III, Little Rock School District attorney Chris Heller, North Little Rock School District attorney Steve Jones and John Walker, attorney for the Joshua Intervenors.