School Committee of Springfield v. Board of Ed.

Decision Date07 September 1972
Citation362 Mass. 417,287 N.E.2d 438
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

Troy T. Murray, City Sol. (James E. Dowd, Springfield, with him), for plaintiff.

William E. Searson, III, Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen. (Walter H. Mayo, III, Asst. Atty. Gen., with him), for defendant.

William F. Malloy, Boston, for Neighborhood Legal Services of Springfield, Inc. amicus curiae.


TAURO, Chief Justice.

The plaintiff school committee seeks an order directing the defendant, State board of education (board) to release certain State school aid withheld from its use under the provisions of the racial imbalance law. 1 By way of counterclaim to the school committee's amended substitute bill for judicial review, the board prays that the school committee be ordered to adopt one of three racial balance plans, as per the board's decision of May 25, 1971, and that additional State school aide be ordered withheld pending compliance with the board's May 25th decision.

The case is here upon the reservation and report of a judge of the Superior Court under G.L. c. 214, § 31. See G.L. c. 213, § 1B, as amended by St.1962, c. 722, § 4. The parties' statement of agreed facts, including 108 exhibits, may be summarized as follows.

Since October, 1965, the school committee has annually provided the board with statistics setting forth the percentage of nonwhite students in each public school under its supervision. The board determined, on the basis of the 1965 statistics, that racial imbalance 2 existed in one junior high school and six elementary schools in Springfield. On April 1, 1966, to correct this imbalance, the school committee filed with the board a racial balance plan based on the recommendations of the board's own advisory committee (See G.L. c. 15, § 1K). This first plan provided, inter alia, for closing of one elementary school; alteration of school attendance districts; modification of the city's open enrollment program; and construction of one new elementary school and an addition to an existing junior high school. The board promptly approved the plan on April 12, 1966.

Statistics filed by the school committee in October, 1966, showed that, despite the short term measures taken under the first plan, there remained one imbalanced junior high school and five imbalanced elementary schools in the city. A second plan was then submitted to the board in July, 1967. The commissioner of education (commissioner), as executive head of the board, notified the school committee in a letter dated July 31, 1967, that the board regarded the plan as weak and it recommended certain changes in the plan. An impasse developed but was resolved with the submission of a revised second plan in September, 1967, which the board approved on October 24, 1967. The revised second plan contained the following elements: continuation of the modified open enrollment program; appointment of a director of school community relations; creation of a METCO 3 program in the Springfield metropolitan area; further alteration of school attendance districts; phasing out of grades 5 and 6 at two elementary schools; and construction of three new elementary schools and an addition to one existing junior high school.

The October, 1967, statistical survey revealed continued imbalance at six schools in Springfield. Thereafter, on December 7, 1967, the board requested a detailed progress report on steps being taken to implement the second revised plan. The city's superintendent of schools responded on January 9, 1968, that only six white, and 171 nonwhite, students were participating in the open enrollment program and that, even with revised school attendance districts, the six schools remained racially imbalanced. No further action, however, was taken by the board until late 1968 when new annual statistics indicated that, despite the closing of the one imbalanced junior high school, racial imbalance continuted to exist at five schools--all elementary. The board then required a new plan, and the school committee complied on March 178 1969. The third plan, approved by the board on July 22, 1969, concluded as follows: 'Racial balance can be maintained in all the new school complexes and in all new elementary schools of Springfield when the new facilities are available.' In substance, the plan was similar to the revised second plan and, like that, plan, placed greates emphasis on shcool construction to achieve balance.

By October, 1969, the annual statistical census revealed that five schools still remained racially imbalanced, and on February 26, 1970, the board requested the school committee to submit an updated version of its third plan. The board further requested information concerning the effect of pupil transfers upon imbalance and any progress made toward the construction of new schools. The school committee provided this information in a letter dated April 1, 1970, but it did not submit an updated plan. On June 12, 1970, the commissioner notified the committee by letter that the board had unanimously passed the following resolution: 'That the (s)chool (c)ommittee and . . . (its chairman) be put on notice immediately that their failure to comply with the racial imbalance law will result in . . . (the withholding of State school aid).' Notwithstanding the resolution, however, agents of the board (principally the assistant commissioner of education) held discussions with the school committee throughout the summer and fall of 1970, and at least with respect to the committee's proposed building program, the board encouraged the committee to proceed with its third plan, without revision.

The statistical survey made in October, 1970, as in the year before, showed that there were five racially imbalanced elementary schools. No indication was given by the board that a new or revised plan would be required, but on December 1, 1970, the commissioner wrote to the mayor of Springfield, as chairman of the school committee, that the board had requested a final recommendation on whether it should vote to withhold State school aid from Springfield. The commissioner further stated that his recommendation would depend, in part, upon information received regarding new school construction and on the implementation of short term measures. Upon receipt of the commissioner's letter, the mayor promptly forwarded to the commissioner copies of executed architectural contracts for all proposed school construction projects, and in a separate letter, he outlined the city's progress, as well as its problems, in trying to achieve racial balance.

The commissioner's response was a letter dated December 11, 1970, in which he stated as follows: 'It appears from the information available to me that the (school construction) projects described in your letter will, upon their completion--and assuming that demographic factors remain relatively constant, eliminate racially imbalanced schools from the Springfield system. Therefore, although I have not considered . . . preferable long-range alternatives . . ., I believe that the (city's racial balance) plan complies with the requirements of the Act. . . . I note, however, that implementation of the plan remains contingent upon certain actions . . . (which must be) taken by you and the City Council.' 4

The letter continued: 'Consequently, I have concluded that, until all actions have been taken to make the system's commitment to its present long-range plan an unqualified one, the Springfield system will not have shown progress within a reasonable time in eliminating racial imbalance in its schools. For . . . (this) reason, . . . I will recommend to the (b)oard of (e)ducation that they instruct me to notify . . . (the appropriate State officials to defer payment of any school assistance to Springfield until) . . . the aforementioned contingencies have been fulfilled.' In addition, the letter indicated: 'My (second) recommendation will . . . (be) that . . . (, in any event, you must develop interim measures to eliminate racial imbalance by September, 1971, pending completion of all new schools, and if an acceptable proposal is not) received . . . by April 1, 1971, I shall feel constrained to advise the appropriate State officials at that time to defer any further payments of State monies.'

At its December 15th meeting, the board voted a resolution adopting the commissioner's recommendations in full; however, no action was taken to withhold money from Springfield until January 4, 1971. The commissioner on that date certified the share of State school assistance due each city and town in the Commonwealth, but he placed the following notation next to Springfield's line: 'Springfield not in compliance with the provisions of . . . (the racial imbalance law); therefore, (the) State (b)oard of (e)ducation is withholding said funds until compliance.' The amount thereby withheld was approximately 7.4 million dollars. 5

Subsequent to the board's vote, but before the commissioner's action, the commissioner received a letter dated December 26, 1970, from a representative of 'People Take Action,' a black community organization, in which the writer expressed opposition to the school construction aspect of Springfield's racial balance plan. The gist of the objection was that certain schools within the black community were to be phased but without any replacement, and as a consequence, black children would have to attend schools outside their community, thereby placing the burden of achieving racial balance primarily on blacks. To eliminate this feature of the plan, the letter recommended alteration of Springfield's building program, and it suggested that, without alteration, the plan might be subject to constitutional attack as violating the equal protection clause of the ...

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