Forty-Six Felons on the Payroll


D. J. Connolly



The problem of our failed public schools is a topic of widespread interest in America.  Reformers outside the system want to fix the problem by making teachers, education bureaucrats, and other insiders, more accountable.  They also want to make the public schools compete for students.  Insiders, on the other hand, want the taxpayers to throw more money at the problem.  This author claims that lawless federal judges deserve much of the blame for those failed schools.  It's time for an example to support that claim.

In 1976, a federal judge took over control of the Cleveland Ohio public schools.  He and his successors held that control for about two decades.  Let's look at the results.  We'll see "equal protection of the laws" in action.  We'll see who got protected and who got the shaft.  We'll see the ugly reality of judicial patronage.

In 1954, at the time of the Brown decision, Cleveland had fairly decent public schools.  They maintained their quality for another decade or so.  In the mid 1960's, the system provided a good education for about 150,000 children.  In 1973, a group of "civil rights" lawyers sued the Cleveland school board.  They claimed that Cleveland had been running a segregated system.  And they claimed that it had been done on purpose.  The lawyers got a court order to search the files for proof.  After a couple of years they had found a fair number of records that fit their story line.  The public school bureaucrats, on behalf of the people, agreed to a consent decree.

In 1976, Federal Judge Frank Battista signed the consent decree.  It ordered the school board to bus thousands of kids across town and to take a long list of other actions.  It also ordered the board to pay a big chunk of other peoples' money to the "civil rights" lawyers.  The judge later replaced that consent decree with one that included the State of Ohio as a defendant.  The State had deeper pockets than the Cleveland School Board.  That consent decree remained in force until 1996.  Then the local federal judge threw in the towel.  During the life of the decree, the schools had gotten steadily worse.  He didn't want to be holding the bag when the people finally figured out why.

During the two decades it was in force, the consent decree created a rather comical Catch 22.  It ordered the Cleveland schools to improve their quality; but many of its other provisions forced that quality to steadily decline.  It ordered that thousands of school children be bused miles from home.  It's well known that successful schools depend on involved parents.  Forced busing ended parental involvement in most Cleveland schools.

It forced the Board of Education to spend a fortune on buses, drivers, lawyers, and various "experts" of highly doubtful value.  It wasted money that should have been spent on teachers and books.  Forced busing and the waste of their tax money drove middle class families out of Cleveland.  So many of the better prepared students left the system.  Many of the better teachers left too.  Capable workers do not stick around where merit and performance don't count.  They do not stick around where the rules prevent them from doing good work.  They do not stick around where they are placed under the supervision of quacks.  The folks who left were replaced by a crowd of very doubtful merit.  In early 1998, the local newspaper discovered that the Cleveland School System had forty-six felons on the payroll. [1]

Each year the consent decree was in force the school district and the state fell further behind in their efforts to satisfy all its terms.  The harder they tried, the further behind they got.  Meanwhile, the "civil-rights" lawyers said that the Cleveland schools were still not meeting the requirements of the consent decree.  So Ohio taxpayers had to keep sending them money.  The lawyers had collected about $10 million by 1996.  Total spending on the consent decree was about $105 million in 1995 alone.  It was projected to consume $1.2 billion by the year 2000. [2]

The consent decree wasted a lot of money.  But its impact on children was the real tragedy.  A 1995 ranking of all the public school systems in Ohio placed Cleveland at 595 out of 600.  Most of the 600 were low-budget rural districts.  Only one urban district ranked below Cleveland.  Dayton, at position number 596, was also under the control of a federal judge.  By 1997, the graduation rate in the Cleveland schools had fallen to about 33 percent.  But the schools failed to educate even those who graduated.  Only 7 percent of Cleveland "graduates" had learned enough to pass the state test of ninth grade skills. [3]

Around the end of 1995, the "civil rights" lawyers requested the removal, from the case, of Judge Robert Krupansky who had replaced Frank Battista after the latter's death.  Krupansky said that the lawyers complained only after he questioned their legal fees.  A little later, Judge Krupansky retired and Judge George White took over the case.  George ordered that the lawyers get all the money they had demanded.  The lead "civil rights" lawyer charged $340.00 per hour. [4]

Now let's sum up the results of the Cleveland desegregation case.  You can find sources for the numbers we quote in the Notes & Citations Section below.  Our calculations are also explained in that section. [5]

Recall that the consent decree cost $105 million in one year alone (1995).  And it was projected to cost $1.2 billion by the year 2000.  Therefore, there's no doubt this 2 decade boondoggle wasted over a billion dollars of the taxpayers' money.  During that time, more than 200,000 students passed through the system.  They wasted a total of about a quarter of a billion hours on buses. [5]

About 7 percent managed to get a decent education.  About 70 percent dropped out.  The other 23 percent graduated but were not really educated. [3]

Keep that billion-dollar figure in mind.  Also keep the 200,000 victimized students in mind.  The billion dollars divided by the 200,000 students works out to about $5,000 per student.  Remember that $5,000 number also.  We'll use it in another essay to calculate a rough estimate of the total cost of court ordered desegregation programs nationwide. [6]

There's one other cost to keep in mind.  Politicians and academics usually blame the distress of northern big cities that became acute in the 1970's on cheap gasoline and two cars per family.  They're practicing denial.  A lawless judiciary was the main cause of the problem.  The consent decree was the main reason that middle class families left Cleveland.  Families with children will try to live where they believe there are decent schools.  That has long been a bedrock rule of the real estate industry.  Middle class families would have left Cleveland even if they had to walk.  As they saw it, their children's futures were at stake.  As they saw it, they needed to escape injustice.  The flight of the middle class ruined the quality of life for those who remained.


1.  The story of forty-six felons on the payroll came from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 22, 1998, page 1-A.  Timothy Heider and Scott Stephens wrote the piece.

2.  The $10 million figure came from a column by Dick Feigler in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 10, 1997, page 2-A.  The $105 million figure came from a Peat Marwick analysis in 1995.  The $1.2 billion figure for the projected cost of the consent decree came from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 20, 1997, page 1-A.  The article was written by Scott Stephens and John F. Hagan.

3.  The 595 out of 600 ranking was published in "The Education Equation," a Cleveland Plain Dealer special section published in August of 1995.  The authors were David Hall and others.  The Cleveland student performance numbers were taken from The Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 7, 1996; Columnist Chris Sheridan quoted Richard Boyd, State-appointed acting school superintendent.

4.  The discussion of legal fees came from The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 9 and 10, 1997.  The January 9 article was an editorial.  The January 10 piece (previously mentioned) was a column by Dick Feigler.

5.  The number of students harmed by the consent decree and the number of student-hours wasted on buses were estimated as follows: The Cleveland system had about 150,000 students at the beginning of this episode, and about 70,000 near the end.  I took the average, over the 20-year period, as around 100,000.  Some students fail to complete twelve years.  The average student probably spent about ten years in the system.  So, in twenty years, about 200,000 students must have passed through the Cleveland schools.  This number is not likely to be off by more than fifteen or 20 percent.  A much larger number of children will have spent some time in the system.

The quarter billion hour estimate for time spent on buses was obtained as follows: Assume about half the students each year rode buses to and from school.  That's about 50,000 kids riding buses on any given school day.  If they wasted, on average, one-and-one-half hours per day, 160 days per year, for twenty years, the result computes to 0.24 billion wasted hours.

6.  See the companion essay, Twenty-Million Ruined Educations.  


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D. J. Connolly