The Washington School Board filed a motion in federal court yesterday to vacate Judge J. Skelly Wright's equal spending decree and permit the board to carry out its own plan to equalize basic programs and staffing in all city schools.
The board said its new plan was more comprehensive and fair than Wright's 1971 order under which per-pupil spending on teachers salaries must be within 5 per cent of the citywide average at everyone of the District's 129 elementary schools.
Since the Wright decree went into effect, more than 100 teachers have been shifted late each fall to keep the school system in compliance. According to school officials, the decree also had led to wide differences in school programs because teachers' salaries vary widely depending on seniority.
The board's new plan would apply to junior and senior highs, as well as to elementary schools. It would require that all schools at each level provide the same basic program and have the same basic program and have the same ratio pupils to instructional staff within 5 per cent of the citywide average for its particular grade levels.
In addition, the plan would require equal spending per student on books and supplies, although the requirement for equal spending on teachers salaries would be dropped.
Judge Wright's order was issued in May, 1977, in a case brought by Julius Hobson Sr., a former school board member and city councilman who died last March. Wright, who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals, heard the case on special assignment as a U.S. District Court trial judge.
Yesterday a spokesman in the clerk's office in U.S. District Court said the new motion wuld be sent to Judge Wright, but he said it was not certain whether Wright or another judge would eventually rule on it.
Peter Rousselot, who was Hobson's lawyer in the case, said he would continue to handle it even though Hobson had died. He noted that the case was a class action suit brought on behalf of all poor black children attending D.C public schools, but he said there would be "some difficulty" in deciding whom to consult with about responding to be board's motion. Rousselot said he has been participating in the case as a volunteer attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.
Wright's 1971 order was an outgrowth of the judge's first decree in the Hobson case in 1967, which banned the track system of ability grouping and established a broad standard of equality for the distribution of educational services among white and black students.
Hobson charged in a second suit that the school system had continued to discriminate against poor blacks because per pupil spending remained higher than average in the city's only cluster of predominently white schools, west of Rock Creek Park.
THe enrollment ofthe D.C. school system was 95 per cent black in 1971 and remains that way now. As intended, the decree took some teachers away from the schools west of Rock Creek Park, but because it is a citywide order nearly all of the reassignments each fall involve shifting teachers from one nearly all-black school to another.
To try to minimize disruption most of the teachers transferred have been specialists in art, music, or physical education rather than regular classroom teacher. But this, in turn, has led to wide differences in school programs, with some schools having virtually no special subjects because nearly all the money alloted them has to be used to pay the high salaries of their older classroom teachers.
In its court papers yesterday, the school board said it was strongly committed to providing "an equal educational opportunity to all students" and to the "equitable distribution of available resources and services.
The board said Wright's 1971 order had been justified by the "absence of affirmative action by school officials to fully comply" with the judge's 1967 decision. But the board said its new plan would carry out "the intent and provisions" of the earlier decision "more fully" than the judge's own plan of 1971. Therefore, the board said, the administration of the public schools."
The board's new plan was drafted by its general counsel David Spliff and is contained in a 10-page set of proposed rules tentatively approved by a unanimous board vote on June 15. The board is expected to adopt the plan formally in August or September, but it cannot go into effect fore elementary schools without court permission.
Besides laying out requirements for basic programs and staffing, the proposal says the school system will to achieve a "balanced distribution of teachers according to their advance degrees and experience. But Splitt said this will be done through assignments of new teachers and action on transfer requests, and will not involve compulsory transfers to meet a statistical formula.
The proposed rules also require that uniform systemwide standards be establised for promotion and graduation, but do not say when these will be enfored.