Attorneys for both the District government and the city's school children have agreed on a plan to guarantee equal school programs without disrupting the school year with large-scale teacher transfers.
The proposed settlement, which was announced yesterday and has yet to be approved by U.S. Circuit Judge J. Skelly Wright, would end more than a decade of litigation over equal treatment for school children here. Under terms of the settlement, the School Board would allocate its resources to ensure uniform pupil-teacher ratios in the city's schools.
The new system would replace one ordered by Judge Wright in 1971 that required the city to provide equal treatment for school children on a complex formula based on the salaries of teachers at each shooL. That 1971 decree had the effect of forcing the city to transfer hundreds of teachers to different schools in late fall to keep the school system in compliance.
The 1971 decree served its purpose and is now outdated, according to attorneys involved in the case who proposed the new formula. In addition, attorneys for the city's school children praised the D.C. School Board for a spirit of cooperation in the field of equal education opportunity that appears to have "become a part of the basic framework of the Board of Education's policy."
". . . Concerned citizens seeking fair treatment for black and poor students in the public schools are far more likely to find relief from the elected board of education than they would have during the decades of neglect and discrimination that ultimately led to the corrective measures forced by this court's decrees," said attorney Peter F. Rousselot for the school children.
Attorney David A. Splitt of the board of education also said the 1971 decree was no longer needed because "the policy of our school system is to distribute resources equitably."
Despite the atmosphere of mutual cooperation and agreement, the attorneys for both sides agreed that the prosed plan should stay in effect for the next 10 years so the court can monitor its operation.
Such monitoring is required, according to the attorneys for the school children, because of the numerous recent changes in the hierarchy of the school system and because of the "occasional turmoil" suffered in the school administration in recent years.
The proposed settlement would replace a decree issued by Wright in 1971 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.
Rousselot, who has participated in the case as a volunteer attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, represented Hobson in the class acton brought on behalf of all poor black children attending D.C. public schools.
Wright's 1971 order was an out-growth of the judge's first decree in the Hobson case in 1967, which banned the "track" system of ability grouping.That decree established a broad standard of equality for the distribution of educational services among white and black students.
Hobson charged in his second suit that the schoool system had continued to discriminate against poor blacks because per-pupil spending remained higher than average in the city's only cluster of predominantly white schools, west of Rock Creek Park.
To remedy that claim. Wright required that per-pupil expenditures on teachers' salaries and benefits at each elementary school be within 5 per cent of the per-pupil expenditure at all elementary schools in the city.
The city would comply with that order after the school year began each fall by adding up the salaries of teachers at each school and dividing the total salarly figure by the number of students at the school. If the result was greater or less than 5 per cent of the mean for all the teachers and all the students in the entire system, teachers would be transferred accordingly. The result was a disruption of curriculum in the schools, according to the school board's attorney.
Rousellot said the 1971 order "played a crucial role in restructuring the elementary school system in D.C." at the time, but that its continuation "may in the future have whimsical and capricious effects."
The salary formula is no longer necessary because the disproportionate appointment of long-term teachers to certain schools and new teachers to others has droped drastically, according to attorneys in the case.
In addition, salary scales are based on longevity and graduate degrees, the attorneys added. In the past few years, however, more teachers have been deployed for longer periods of time and more of them have graduate degrees - practically ending the situation in which large numbers of new and inexperienced teachers would be brought into the system each year and assigned in large numbers to certain schools.
Both sides agreed that a pupil-teacher ratio - which is about 25-to-1 in the city - would be a more efficent and equitable way to provide equality in the schools.
Most of the proposed order would go out of existence in five years if the following five years, portions of the order would remain in effect at schools west of ock Creek Park.
The school board recommended this June that the 1971 order be vacated altogether and the board be allowed to work out its own equalization plan. That request prompted the discusions that ended in yesterday's proposed settlement.