Prince George's County school officials criticized a court-appointed panel's desegregation report yesterday, arguing that the proposals would close 32 schools, most of them in black neighborhoods, and increase the number of students bused and the length of time students spend on the bus.
"I have some grave concerns," said Superintendent John A. Murphy of the report, which was given to U.S. District Judge Frank A. Kaufman Monday. "I am concerned with what appears to be excessive busing . . . . Try going on a 40-minute ride on a school bus and see how many days you want to do it."
The blue-ribbon panel, headed by Robert L. Green, president of the University of the District of Columbia, concluded in its report that county schools could be fully desegregated by pairing schools, opening or closing others, and instituting revised busing patterns. That conclusion conflicted with a Board of Education argument presented to Kaufman last year that full desegregation would cause the exodus of white students.
Board chairman Angelo Castelli said he will ask the school staff to analyze the report before the board submits any response to the court. In the meantime, the report drew praise from the county chapter of the NAACP.
Thomas A. Newman Jr., a spokesman for the NAACP unit, which filed the desegregation lawsuit, said he was pleased by his preliminary reading of the report. "I'm encouraged, because what I've read thus far says, 'I told you so.' We've been saying this all along. There is some possibility" for desegregation.
But school officials found fault on a variety of counts.
"Our preliminary review of the Green report reveals that the researchers apparently studied only numerical, statistical descriptions of communities and schools," said school spokeswoman Jacquelyn Lendsey in a statement. "There's no real concept of geography, economy or educational merit in what appears to a dramatic, large-scale proposal to bus students."
In criticizing the recommendations, school board attorney Paul M. Nussbaum pointed out that the report calls for closing five middle schools and 27 elementary schools, at least 13 of which are in predominantly black sections. Of 9,987 students in those schools, 6,674 are black.
"The very reason" the court appointed the expert panel, said Nussbaum, was "to come up with a scheme whereby predominantly black schools would not be closed."
The implication that the experts have put a disproportionate burden on blacks is ironic, in light of similar criticism leveled against the school board last year when it suggested closing 22 schools in its desegregation proposal to the court.
Robert L. Crain, a member of the panel, said schools were proposed for closing not because of their racial makeup, but because of inadequate facilities, and their location in areas where enrollment is declining.
"It would not make sense from a financial point of view to close schools in Bowie and Laurel" because population growth is expected there, he said.
The panel's recommendations that busing patterns "leapfrog" over integrated neighborhoods near the Capital Beltway was criticized by Mike Davis, president of the County Council of PTAs. "It's the same old thing, you're still busing children past schools," he said, and called for Kaufman to seek another desegregation plan.