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An even more complicated proposal would turn Central High School into a charter school--and a test case for other schools in the entire district.

The magnet programs are likely to at least be tinkered with, although unlikely to be scrapped, because of the tremendous capital investment they represent.

"Under a magnet structure, the outcomes are not completely academic," board member Joe Eddie Lopez says. "Why would anybody expect academic results if you're just trying to get kids into a school?

"Without stressing academic achievement, the magnets become pretty meaningless. If our students are not eligible to take advantage of that [magnet] and pursue that field at the universities, it's doing very little."
And if the district doesn't start showing an increase in achievement, the magnet programs are going to be history. Without a federal order for their existence, it's not likely that anyone will support their funding.

Investigators from the Department of Justice are scheduled for a visit in October. A plan has to be filed with the court by the end of November.

If the desegregation order is lifted, the district's funding could be capped at its current level or cut back over a period of years. However, without a federal court mandate, state legislators could easily take all $32.6 million away.

And that is the immediate fear of everyone in the school district.
"I'm not sure what business could operate without a quarter of its budget," Diaz says.

Unfortunately, he may soon find out.

Albert Flores has moved the boxes of files about Phoenix Union High School District out of the warehouse where they've been for the better part of a decade since he represented plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the district. Now, yellowed and water-stained, they're spread out on the floor of what appears to be a war room in Flores' downtown law office. He's preparing to go back into battle with the school district. "A lot of people are saying forget the desegregation, forget the money, let's work on education," Flores says. "This plan wasn't perfect by any means," he adds. "But I'd file the lawsuit again tomorrow if it were not equitable.

"My fear is that if it were not for someone watching over them, it will go back to the way it was," Flores says.

He's not alone. Most people who know anything about Phoenix Union High School District guess that within a single year, the schools would become completely re-segregated if the order were lifted. A quick look at housing patterns shows they're probably right.

"I'm not ready to throw the baby out yet," says Tom Espinoza, who was behind the original lawsuit. "There are so many people in the community saying, 'Scrap the whole thing. It's not working and maybe that will force them to make the school district deal with the real issue.'

"And the real issue is that all of the kids in the Phoenix Union High School District should be reading and writing and doing math skills.

"The truth is that my issue was never desegregation. My concern was not that we have more Anglo students. The issue was how do we force the school district into providing a better education? And we had to file suit to do it. In hindsight, I'm not sure we ever reached that."
"I would love for this to be about education," Flores says, discussing the return of his case. "But it's not.

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Lisa Davis