Settlement nears in P.G. County rights suit Officials, NAACP accept state aid offer

pact would end busing

March 05, 1998|By Michael Dresser and Thomas W. Waldron | Michael Dresser and Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

A desegregation lawsuit that brought a quarter-century of court-ordered school busing to Prince George's County moved to the brink of settlement yesterday after county officials and the NAACP accepted a state offer of $300 million in additional education aid.

In a letter to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, the litigants said they have reached a "carefully forged compromise" that would end busing in the county if the state can meet certain conditions. The agreement is contingent on General Assembly approval of additional aid to county schools.

"The parties to this litigation are encouraged by your willingness to participate in the effort to ensure appropriate capital and operating funds for the school system and address the special needs of the Prince George's County public schools," said the letter.

It was signed by Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry, school board Chairman Alvin Thornton and Hardi L. Jones, president of the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Ray Feldmann, a Glendening spokesman, said the governor was "very pleased and very encouraged" about the tentative agreement.

"He sees it as a very positive sign and a positive step toward improving education for the students in Prince George's County and bringing back neighborhood schools," Feldmann said.

For Prince George's students, the proposed settlement could mean the end of 25 years of bus trips -- a remedy imposed by a federal judge because of resistance to desegregation by the white-dominated school board.

In the decades since, blacks have become a majority in Prince George's County and hold top county offices. With three-quarters of public school students black, those on both sides of the issue agree that busing is obsolete.

However, Prince George's officials have insisted that the county will have to launch a huge school building program to restore a neighborhood school system.

Though the state is not a party to the lawsuit, Glendening announced last week that he would help finance the long-sought settlement by committing $300 million in additional operating and construction aid to the county schools over the next four fiscal years, or $75 million a year.

That includes $35 million annually for school construction aid. The plan also would provide $24 million more a year in operating aid under the current state school funding formula and another $16 million a year in operating funds contingent on approval of a new state education bill.

That legislation, backed by Glendening and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., is considered nearly certain to pass.

The bill also includes provisions under which the school system will be held accountable for its performance -- a concept the parties to the lawsuit endorsed.

In an 18-page memorandum released yesterday, the parties in the lawsuit specified settlement conditions.

Feldmann said the governor was eager to sit down and work out the remaining issues.

The memorandum, which has not been signed, calls on the Prince George's school system to approve a plan for boosting education and ending busing.

Former Del. Timothy F. Maloney of Prince George's County, who helped lead a state task force that studied the county's education system last year, said the letter and memorandum were a positive, though not unexpected, step.

"In a sense this is anticlimactic," Maloney said. "But it will be a relief for the county to look past litigation and forced busing and begin to look at achievement and accountability."

Should the memorandum's conditions be met, the parties agreed to ask the district judge overseeing the case to put it on the inactive docket.

Pub Date: 3/05/98

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