WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court yesterday declined to reconsider a Kansas City, Mo., desegregation dispute -- a move that will require Missouri to shoulder a hefty financial responsibility for a new high school and for asbestos removal in public schools.
The justices, without comment, declined to review a federal appeals court ruling approving an $8 million increase in construction costs for Central High School and requiring the state and Kansas City school district to share equally in the costs of ridding six schools of asbestos.
The $8 million increase brings to more than $32 million the cost of the new high school, which features an Olympic-sized swimming pool, indoor and outdoor running tracks, and a host of other amenities.
Central is a "magnet school" emphasizing a classical Greek curriculum, including an abundance of athletic facilities. Magnet schools are designed to attract nonminority students to schools previously attended primarily by minorities. All of Kansas City's public high schools and middle schools currently have magnet programs.
In their petition for Supreme Court review, Missouri officials accused the Kansas City school district of trying to expand the scope of a federal district court's desegregation remedy with the ultimate goal of having the state pick up the tab. The state claims this tactic is being used increasingly by school districts nationally.
According to the state, school boards are operating as "'friendly adversaries' to urge that remedies be ordered 'against' them to gain access to state treasuries."
State officials also contended that asbestos removal has no relevance to school desegregation efforts. The total cost of the asbestos work totaled $910,224, putting the state's share at $455,112.
Officials said "the presence of asbestos in the Kansas City public school system was not caused by illegal segregation," noting that "the evidence did not suggest that [the school district's] asbestos problem was present in the formerly all-black schools and absent in the formerly all-white ones, as one would expect if this condition were a result of prior efforts at segregation."
A federal district court judge entered orders approving the spending increase at Central High and requiring the state to absorb some of the cost associated with asbestos removal at six schools.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the orders, prompting the state's Supreme Court appeal.
According to legal papers filed with the Supreme Court in the case, Missouri v. Jenkins, the district court overseeing desegregation efforts in Kansas City has ordered improvements that will cost $1.2 billion to implement. The state already has pumped $469 million into the district to cover its portion of the costs, as well as some of the costs the school district was responsible for but could not meet.
State officials claim Missouri has paid $67 million to cover portions of the school district's liability, even though the school district has a readily available source of funds.
In a 1990 ruling in the case stemming from other facets of the desegregation plan, the Supreme Court ruled federal courts can order localities to increase taxes to pay for school desegregation. According to the state, the school district has opposed the tax increases necessary to fund its full share of the costs, and the district court has declined to order that they be raised.
For its part, the school district in its legal briefs said the fact that "it costs more than originally anticipated in 1986 or 1987 to build a new Central High School in 1990 and 1991" is not a significant enough issue for the Supreme Court to review.
Moreover, the district noted that the construction work at Central High and the asbestos work is finished.
"No decision of this court could alter the scope of what has been done in these projects," the district's lawyers said in Supreme Court briefs.