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L. B. Schools Stalled in Bid for Costs of Integration

June 27, 1985|ELAINE WOO and MARK GLADSTONE | Times Staff Writers

For the second year in a row, the Long Beach Unified School District has hit a snag in its efforts to obtain reimbursement from the state for the costs of running a voluntary school desegregation program.

The school district was counting on repayment of $16.7 million to cover desegregation costs incurred between 1977 and 1983. But last week the powerful Assembly Ways and Means Committee trimmed that allocation from a bill that authorizes payments for a variety of claims against the state.

"It was a snafu," district spokesman Richard Van Der Laan said. But the bill's author and other state officials say Long Beach is not entitled to the funds.

Long Beach voluntarily established a school desegregation program in 1972 and has been trying to recover its costs from the state since 1980. It has not had an easy time doing so.

Almost Lost Millions

Last year the school district almost lost $5.2 million in state funds when Gov. George Deukmejian vetoed part of a bill that would have reimbursed Long Beach and five other school districts for desegregation costs during the 1982-83 and 1983-84 school years. Deukmejian said that he thought the money was contained in another bill but later realized he was mistaken. The 1983-84 funds were restored in an urgency measure the governor signed earlier this year, and funds for 1982-83 were included in the current bill now on the Assembly floor.

This time, the Long Beach district's efforts were derailed by a motion of Assemblyman Mike Roos (D-Los Angeles), a member of the Ways and Means Committee. Roos said he was advised by the committee staff that the state was not obligated to pay claims for past years and requested that the reimbursement for Long Beach be deleted from the $95-million claims bill.

The Legislature reimburses school districts that are under court order to integrate. But it has been reluctant to reimburse those districts that voluntarily adopted and implemented a desegregation plan, especially if the claims go back a number of years.

Not Obliged to Pay

The Legislature is not obliged to reimburse past claims, said Assemblyman John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara), committee chairman and author of the claims bill. "We have other things (to pay for) that are more pressing."

He predicted that Long Beach school officials will have a hard time persuading the Legislature to approve the money.

However, he said that the state should pay the districts' current costs and provide regular funding in the future.

Van Der Laan said it was unfair of the Legislature to refuse refunds to districts that voluntarily desegregated.

"To reward a school district for having a court order and not award a district that does it voluntarily defies all logic. But that is what has happened," he said.

Funds for Operations

According to Van Der Laan, the district did not include the state funds in its budget. But he said the extra money would help the district restore $10 million in operating costs that were shaved from its 1984-85 budget.

The reimbursement is also opposed by officials in the state Department of Finance and by the legislative analyst. They argue that desegregation is not a state-mandated program, and therefore the Legislature is not liable for the costs.

Peter Lippman, budget director and lobbyist for the Long Beach school system, said that the matter may wind up in court if a legislative solution is not found.

It would not be the first time Long Beach has taken its claim for reimbursement to court. In 1982 the district asked the state Board of Control to rule on its repayment request. The board refused, contending that the matter was beyond its jurisdiction. But a Los Angeles Superior Court ordered it to consider the claim last year. The board heard the case and ruled that districts with voluntary desegregation are entitled to reimbursement.

They'll Try Again

Lippman said he will work with legislators to try to amend another bill to include the $16-million reimbursement for Long Beach before the current session of the Legislature ends in September.

Assemblyman Dennis Brown (R-Signal Hill), who sits on the Ways and Means Committee and represents part of Long Beach, said it is possible that the bill can be amended when it reaches the Senate, but he said Long Beach officials have not discussed that possibility with him.

He believes that Long Beach and other school systems that voluntarily desegregated are entitled to reimbursement.

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