WHEN JUDGE J. SKELLY WRIGHT issued his celebrated 1971 decree requiring equal per-pupil spending on teachers' salaries at every elementary school in the city, the purpose was to curb "systematic discrimination" that had kept certain schools essentially white and underused. In commending this court effort to even out the distribution of educational resources, we noted on this page that the order was not a guarantee of better education for all students - but that it did attack a certain inequity in the school system. The late Julius W. Hobson Sr., who brought the suit on which Judge Wright was to issue his orders, also recognized that the court's limiting of equalization requirements to teachers' salaries only would produce other inequities.
It did. The teacher money and teacher-pupil ratios that had been weighted in favor of white children shifted, all right - in all directions, with differing impacts. Because teachers' salaries vary widely depending on seniority - by about 70 per cent - the actual services that equal amounts of dollars can buy have varied sharply, too.
As a result, schools that had the most experienced classroom teachers have been forced into having larger classes or fewer special subjects. In many instances, they have turned out to be smaller school buildings downtown. With a larger shares of their allowances going to pay for higher salaries of the more senior teachers, some of these schools have had virtually no programs of art, music, physical education or other special services.
School superintendents Hugh Scott and Barbara Sizemore both expressed unhappiness about the decree, but neither ever prepared a detailed plan for changing it. Today, under the efficient administration of Superintendent Vincent E. Eeed, there's a sensible set of new proposals - to equalize basic services and class sizes - throughout the city school system from pre-kindergarten through high school.
Mr. Reed is urging that the school board seek a change to require that average class sizes be the same, and that reading, math and physical education teachers be distributed according to their salaries. He is recommending that art, music and foreign language teachers also be distributed according to enrollment, but that schools be allowed to choose what combination of these services they want. The superintendent has proposed, too, that there be equal distribution of administrators, counselors, clerks and librarians on the basis of enrollment.
Mr. Reed's proposals are scheduled to go before the school board next month. They need board approval before they may be presented to Judge Wright. Not only should the board approve this enormously welcome effort by Mr. Reed and his administration, but the members should use it to seek an end to the court's involvement in this entire matter. Times have changed since the needs for Judge Wright's orders existed, and the city's school system is moving well in response to today's situation. That news should be received with judicial interest - and, we would imagine, a sense of relief - by Judge Wright.