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D.C.Seeks Corporate Money, Advice for Magnet Schools

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Washington--The District of Columbia school system is negotiating with several major corporations to invest more than $1 million in five "magnet" high schools--designed to prepare students for careers in communications, computer sciences, engineering, hotel and restaurant management, and finance--next year, school officials here disclosed recently.

General Motors, Xerox, and Control Data Corporations are among the potential sponsors who are being asked by the superintendent to "invest in the human capital that is required by corporate America for productivity, profitability, and growth" by contributing money, technical assistance, and personnel to the schools.

Credit for the plan--which would bolster the sagging reputation of the financially and academically troubled school system--is being given to its new superintendent, Floretta Dukes McKenzie, a former federal education official who assumed her position last July.

Changing Economic Fundamentals

In a letter to one corporation, the superintendent emphasized that "we are not seeking philanthropy .... Economic fundamentals are changing rapidly, altering the very rules of corporate investment .... Human capital is at a premium and will become more so."

Ms. McKenzie pointed out that direct investment in public schools could reduce the amount of money corporations spend on their own education programs. "Businessmen who try to remedy the problem [of poorly educated employees] in-house may be wasting money," she said.

As an example, she cited the $6 million per year spent by American Telephone and Telegraph Corporation to teach employees basic writing and mathematics skills during office hours.

The superintendent's plan is one of the first examples of extensive corporate involvement in creating "career" high schools in the U.S., according to a spokesman for the school system.

Although corporations and foundations have made grants to public schools in the past, "nowhere to our knowledge has a company also been asked for advice on curriculum, staffing, technical assistance, provision of jobs, and assessment of programs," said Peter Weaver, the superintendent's executive assistant for corporate relations.

Unique Position Created

Mr. Weaver's recently created position in the school system represents another unique aspect of the district's plan. An attorney and former commercial real-estate executive, he claims to be the first official in a public-school system hired solely to raise funds from private sources. His position is similar to that of a university fund-raising official, Mr. Weaver said.

Details about the proposal for the new schools will not be available for several months because agreements with the corporations are still being negotiated, Mr. Weaver said.

In addition to major corporations, the school system is seeking funds from smaller, local companies. A consortium of city banks, for example, is being asked to underwrite the expenses of setting up the high school for fi-nance. And for the communications high school, a local advertising firm has already agreed to provide $20,000 that would be used to develop curricula, provide teachers and guest lecturers, design broadcast studios, and develop internships for students.

The firm has also agreed to produce radio and television advertisements of the school system's investment plan and to encourage its clients to invest in the school system as well.

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