Judge keeps Pulaski County district under desegregation order


LITTLE ROCK — A federal judge Monday denied the Pulaski County Special School District’s request to be declared substantially desegregated and released from court supervision.

U.S. District Judge D.P. Marshall said he would reconsider the district’s request to be released from a long-standing desegregation order next summer.

“The Court is heartened that … PCSSD is moving diligently to address the areas where the district is not in compliance,” Marshall wrote in the five page order. “The Court appreciates and applauds PCSSD’s update, but denies the motion without prejudice.”

The district had asked Marshall to rule that the school system is in compliance with its desegregation plan in four areas: Addressing single-race classrooms in the district, Advanced Placement/gifted education programs, special education services and district staffing.

The ruling comes about a year after a federal appeals court in St. Louis upheld a lower court order that said the district had failed to comply with its desegregation plan.

Last year, the district, which had already been classified by the state Board of Education as fiscally distressed, was taken over by the state.

In Monday’s ruling, Marshall said he would be willing to hold short hearings on each compliance area in August and September. He urged the district to file a status report by Feb. 1 “based on more complete information and definitive intentions.”

Marshall added that the February report “should indicate all areas in which the district believes it is in compliance.”

He did approve a settlement that would allow the Pulaski County district to pay the lawyers for black parents who intervened in the desegregation case $875,000 “for helping monitor, enforce and implement desegregation plans during the last two decades.”

PCSSD, the Little Rock School District and the North Little Rock School District have been involved in a long-running school desegregation case. Since the 1988-89 school year, the state, under a court order, has spent $1.05 billion on desegregation funding in the three districts. The Little Rock and North Little Rock districts previously were declared substantially desegregated.

Jerry Guess, state-appointed superintendent of the Pulaski County district, said he was pleased that Marshall approved the settlement with attorneys for the intervenors and that the judge would allow short hearings on each individual compliance areas rather than one hearing that would last days or a week.

“We think the judge, in acknowledging our cooperation with (the attorneys for the intervenors) and acknowledging our deliberate progress forward, we think this is a good situation,” Guess said.

In November, Gov. Mike Beebe, when presenting his $4.9 billion general-revenue budget for the next fiscal year, proposed a further reduction in the state sales tax on groceries that would be contingent upon a decline in the state’s budget obligations, including the state’s desegregation funding to the three school districts.

Beebe said he believes the state’s desegregation payments, along with bond costs, would end within the next year or two. He said the attorney general’s office has already requested an end to the desegregation payments because there is no longer federal supervision of the Little Rock and North Little Rock districts.