Magnet schools attract support

A court-ordered desegregation plan to attract more white students was criticized by a lawmaker for its $259 million cost, but a school official said it provides ``more opportunities than problems.'' United States District Judge Russell G. Clark on Wednesday ordered the Kansas City School District to begin converting to ``magnet schools,'' in what educators say is one of the most radical and expensive desegregation plans in the nation.

Attorney General William Webster said the state will appeal the order, which affects 36,000 students.

The order is going to devastate the budget, state House Speaker Bob Griffin said. ``I think the concept is good. I think it's a means toward arriving at integration. ... [but] I think these federal judges sometimes forget money is not manufactured, and we do not have the luxury of operating at a deficit the way the federal government can.''

Judge Clark ordered the state to pay $143 million and the district to pay $53 million for the 46 magnet schools that will open over the next six years.

He left open the possibility that the state would pay the entire $196 million if the school district can't raise its share from Kansas City taxpayers.

The money is in addition to the $36 million the state already is paying for educational improvements and $27 million for building renovations.

``For the first time in recent memory the Kansas City School District has more opportunities than problems,'' said interim Superintendent Jasper Harris, adding ``it will be a tremendous responsibility for the administration and the teaching staff, but I think we're up to it,'' he added.

Magnet schools offer specialized themes like foreign language or computer instruction. Officials say magnets provide their only tool for attracting white students into a school system that is 74 percent minority.

No matter what legal action ensues, school officials indicated that the district will proceed with plans to open 14 magnet schools next fall and begin construction on four new buildings.

Clark told the district to submit to voters a $53 million bond issue, which might be more palatable than tax levy increases voters have turned down three times this year.

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