Hayden High School Had a Farm, E-I-E-I-O

The Center for Agribusiness and Equine Science was supposed to help desegregate the Phoenix Union High School District. Now the same lawsuit that created it is shutting it down.

The parents and students at the Farm contend that Carl Hayden's guidance counselors have been steering kids away from the magnet, telling them that since it might not be around much longer anyway, why bother?

"They want you to go to other magnets, they don't say come up to the Farm," says Bobby Hoover.

Hoover, 15, is a former dropout and gangbanger who boasts of the fights and the legal troubles he's gotten into. Hoover is an urban white kid from a disadvantaged neighborhood. He jokes that he's worked so much with the Farm's horses that he's even learned to tolerate country-and-western music. His teachers have seen him channel his anger into hard work.

"It's amazing to watch the demeanor of a kid when he's working with an animal," Davis says.

And it's an inspiration to see a troubled kid find a future for himself in a career that's not only accessible to him but that he loves as well.

What happens to him after the Farm shuts down is anyone's guess. He will be another casualty of the greater good.

"What has happened with the agribusiness, equine center is that it's done an exceptionally marvelous job for the few," says former principal Kino Flores, who is now superintendent of the Tolleson School District. "That's not the intent of the deseg order."

"Since when do plaintiffs in a lawsuit run a school district?" one teacher asks, without bothering to mask the anger in her voice.

Al Flores has presided over the class-action lawsuit that has ruled the Phoenix Union High School District since 1982. Parents, teachers, businessmen, even school-board members curse and mutter at the perceived power he has over the district's decisions.

"Nobody appointed me anything," he says, "but I feel an obligation that if money is being misspent for the benefit of a small number of people when there is a great number of people who are suffering, then that money should be redirected."

The children on whose behalf Flores filed the original lawsuit are now in their 30s, and so when Flores repeatedly refers to "the plaintiffs," he is speaking symbolically.

"I think the community still exists out there," he says." There are still students in South Mountain High School that are getting the short end of the stick. There are still students at Carl Hayden who will soon be in the same situation as South Mountain High School students."

When Flores filed the suit in 1982, he was not defending symbols, but the rights of real neighborhood children to get the education they deserved. Because of financial difficulties, the Phoenix Union High School District shut down its four inner-city high schools, schools that had already been allowed to deteriorate. South Mountain was the only remaining high school south of Thomas Road from Tempe to Laveen.

The inner-city students, mostly minorities, were forced to find their own way on public transportation to the other schools in the district, which meant they had to get up at dawn. And if they wanted to participate in after-school activities, they ran the risk of being stranded, because there was no reliable evening bus service.

"These kids aren't the ones who get new Mustangs for their birthdays," Flores quips.

In March 1982, he filed a suit in federal court on behalf of 16 Hispanic students who attended downtown's Phoenix Union High School; it took its name--Castro v. Phoenix Union High School District--from the name of the first child named as a plaintiff. Another attorney filed on behalf of students at East High School, and the two cases were combined.

In August 1982, Judge Valdemar Cordova agreed that the district had eliminated the inner-city schools, and he ordered that two remain open and that the district become "closed," that is, that transfers from one school to another be regulated to keep them as racially and ethnically balanced as possible.

"A policy which allows virtually uncontrolled transfers from racial minority schools is tantamount to authorization for Anglo students to flee and perpetuates segregation," Cordova wrote in his ruling.

Flores says now that all he wanted was a neighborhood school when he filed the original suit. But it grew. The U.S. Department of Justice had also entered into the lawsuit, which by 1985 had passed into the courtroom of Judge Carl Muecke. Muecke signed a consent decree and desegregation order that had been worked out among the plaintiffs and the school district that would raise overall academic standards and equal educational opportunities in the district, and would create a series of magnet schools especially to attract Anglo students to minority schools.

The magnets were paid for with desegregation funds, monies that are federally mandated but come from taxes levied on district residents.

By 1995, the amount of desegregation funds in the Phoenix Union district budget had reached $32.6 million. Judge Muecke, who had been monitoring Castro v. Phoenix Union High School District through annual reports from the district, decided that the case was lying fallow, that no progress was being made regarding desegregation, and he ordered that the case be terminated (see "Does Not Work to Capacity," September 28, 1995).

The district, the Justice Department and Flores protested; Muecke relented. But everyone thought this was the time to reconsider the district's desegregation efforts.

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