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Comic Relief, Serious Talk Mix at Boards' Meeting

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Atlanta--In a chilly subterranean assembly hall in Atlanta's World Congress Center last week, 15,000 members of the National School Boards Association (nsba) clustered in semi-darkness to hear a speech by Art Buchwald.

The Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist was the last scheduled speaker in the four-day annual nsba convention, a meeting that had concerned itself with such sobering matters as federal education budget cuts, tuition tax credits for private schools, desegregation, and censorship of textbooks.

While Mr. Buchwald's jokes dealt more often with politics than pedagogy--"James Watt did for the envi-ronment what Claus Von Bulow did for the National Diabetes Foundation"--the comedian's quirky, cynical monologue was welcome comic relief for delegates weary of workshops, addresses, and panel discussions.

Funding was the chief concern of the school-board members at this 42nd annual convention. The association's 135-person Delegate Assembly promptly voted to oppose the cuts in federal subsidies for public schools that have already been made by the Reagan Administration, as well as the new ones it proposes.

Including a 19-percent proposed cut this year, federal support of public-school programs has dropped 36 percent in three years, said the outgoing nsba president, Robert V. Haderlein. Such massive cuts in support will force the curtailment of programs in vocational education, training for the gifted and talented, career counseling, and even school lunches, Mr. Haderlein warned.

President Reagan's proposed tax credit for parents who enroll their children in private schools was even more unpopular with the nsba delegates. In a strongly worded telegram to the White House, they warned the President that his proposal would "undermine the concept of separation of church and state." And they agreed that the tuition tax credit, if passed, will face a tough constitutional challenge in the Supreme Court.

Although they espoused traditionally liberal notions of the role of the federal government in school funding, delegates were firmly in favor of local control over the allocation of such subsidies.

"Local school districts, the largest users of local government revenues, [must] be given a voice in the development of the 'new federalism,"' said Raymond J. McGrath, a Republican Congressman from New York. Mr. McGrath described the government's reallocation of responsibility for the distribution of funding as "an experiment to see if government can be made more manageable" and urged that the influential but little-known Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, a federal group made up of local, state, and national elected officials, include school-board members.

Bills, including one sponsored by Mr. McGrath and 172 co-sponsors, to include school-board officials on the commission have been introduced in both houses of Congress in recent weeks. (See Education Week, April 21, 1982.)

A "back-to-basics" approach to grade-school and high-school education was the subject of an address by the philosopher and educator Mortimer Adler, another popular speaker at the convention. Mr. Adler's "Paideia Proposal" for curriculum reform calls for a rigorous 12-year course of study that eliminates all secondary-school electives and replaces job-oriented courses with programs exposing students to great ideas in humanism.

More than 100 clinics featuring panel discussions on everything from "How a Board Can Set Goals for a District" to "Dealing Effectively with the Media" and "How Not to Get Sued When You Must Fire Somebody" were a mainstay of the convention, occupying most members while the Delegate Assembly wrestled with 95 resolutions, goals, and policy statements proposed for adoption by the nsba

The assembly also elected its former first vice president, Rayma C. Page, a Florida school-board member, to succeed Mr. Haderlein.

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