Long Beach Wins Suit Over Costs of Desegregation : Education: School district will receive $63.7 million from the state for expenses incurred as part of its integration program, which was voluntary.
For years, Long Beach school officials watched as other districts under court order to desegregate their classrooms received millions of dollars from the state to bus students and set up desegregation programs.
Long Beach Unified, which was left out because it had voluntarily created desegregation programs, sued the state on charges that the district should be reimbursed for money it spent on programs to integrate schools and won.
This week, the years of wrangling and waiting paid off when the state agreed to pay $63.7 million to the Long Beach school district. Half of the amount is scheduled to be paid Tuesday; the other half is expected in September.
Long Beach Supt. Carl A. Cohn said the money hasn’t come a moment too soon for the cash-strapped district, which has been forced to trim its budget five consecutive years. Nearly 500 jobs have been eliminated, programs have been cut, crucial building plans have been put on hold and various repairs have been delayed, Cohn said.
“Year after year, without this funding we have been forced to make extra budget cuts,” he said.
A citizens group will convene next month to decide how to spend the money.
A state official said the payment is the largest for districts that have filed reimbursement claims for voluntary desegregation programs. The payment covers expenses that the school district spent on desegregation programs from 1977 until 1991, when the regulations were loosened on voluntary programs.
Long Beach began its voluntary desegregation efforts in 1972, nearly five years before the state ordered school districts to adopt desegregation plans.
The district went to court to recover all of its costs for years of integrating classrooms on its own, arguing that desegregation programs mandated by state law ought to be paid for by the state.
In 1988, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge sided with the district, and the state Court of Appeal upheld the ruling two years later. For the last five years, the two sides have been wrestling over the amount to be paid to the Long Beach district.
Allan E. Tebbetts, attorney for Long Beach schools, said district officials had originally requested more than $90 million in reimbursements.
The state controller’s office sent auditors to Long Beach to examine records supporting the district’s claims. Auditors rejected many of the claims, saying some records were missing. At one point, state auditors said the district owed the state $9 million.
Long Beach has continued to spend millions to balance the school district’s increasingly ethnically diverse enrollment.
This year the district will spend about $15 million on desegregation programs, about $6 million of it on busing. Because of changes in the law, districts are entitled to claim up to 80% of their expenses.
The cornerstone of the district’s desegregation efforts are still magnet schools. Forty-three of the district’s 85 schools offer advanced and special programs to draw white students into minority neighborhoods and minority students to schools with more white children.
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