A federal judge has ordered a desegregation expert to help resolve a decades-long battle to end racial disparity in the Tucson Unified School District.
U.S. District Judge David Bury asked the district and Latino and black plaintiffs to find eligible individuals who could serve as a “special master” to make sure the district eliminates all vestiges of segregation.
The Arizona Daily Star said Saturday the person will make recommendations directly to the court while suggesting specific programs the district should implement and a financial plan to identify funding sources.
The ruling was the latest in a saga that included a 1978 agreement between the district and minority plaintiffs that set up court oversight of Pima County’s largest school district.
In July, a federal appeals court overturned a judge’s decision ending court oversight of the district. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling came almost three years after the federal judge in Tucson essentially released the school district from a 30-year-old desegregation order.
The U.S. Department of Justice had argued that Bury erred in choosing to lift the desegregation order despite finding that school district failed to act in good faith compliance with its obligations.
The district has been operating under a plan that aims to narrow the gaps in achievement and a disparity in discipline between minority and non-minority students. The plan is not monitored by the court. Rather, Bury decided it could be monitored by the community for compliance, with recourse for noncompliance being addressed by the school board.
The school district has had delays in carrying out the plan and much of that has been attributed to changes in district leadership throughout 2010.
Class-action lawsuits were filed against the district in 1978 on behalf of black students and Mexican-American students and employees.
In 2004, TUSD moved for termination of the federally supervised desegregation decree, claiming it had eliminated the vestiges of past discrimination to the extent possible.
Now, Bury has ordered the parties to propose names for the individual to aid the effort within 20 days.
“The judge clearly wants finality,” said Richard Yetwin, an attorney who handles desegregation issues for the district.
However, the special master likely won’t come cheap with such experts nationally tending to be attorneys or doctorate-holding academics.
Rubin Salter Jr., an attorney representing the black plaintiffs, said he’d be stunned to find an expert who would be willing to work for less than $1,500 a day.
Bury said he intends for TUSD to foot the bill for the expert, but Salter said he will object to any effort on the district’s part to tap desegregation money to pay it.
“Why should the wrongdoer, clearly the district in this case, take money from the students to pay for that wrongdoing?” said Salter, adding that he wants the money to come from elsewhere in the district’s budget.