Arkansas Supreme Court justices formally stepped back into a decades-long fight over school quality today. Justices said they would appoint a special master to recommend ways to bring public schools up to constitutional standards. The unsigned order by the court followed a two-hour hearing at which a lawyer for the state acknowledged that legislators meeting in special session missed a January first deadline for coming up with ways to improve schools. The state also pleaded for more time so the Legislature could complete its work. The court issued its directive as Attorney General Mike Beebe was briefing legislators on the oral arguments held earlier in the day. In his remarks, he warned them that they were running out of time to comply with the court`s 2002 order that declared the school system unconstitutional. The justices cited the legislature`s noncompliance in reclaiming the case and said it is best to have a special master assess the state of Arkansas` 450-thousand student system. The order says the court will -- quote -- consider and decide what remedy or writ is proper to assure compliance -- endquote. A later order will name the master and dictate what he or she must consider. ----- The court`s action sidesteps, at least for now, the threat that some Arkansas government agencies would have to trim services. A lawyer who represented the Lake View School District, which started the current case, had wanted education funded off the top of the state`s budget, with other agencies sharing what was left over.