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Principals Advised To Be Selective About Links to Business

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Washington--As the private sector becomes more involved in education--as both a source of funds and a source of expert advice--schools must resist the temptation to accept whatever businesses offer, a former superintendent of schools told those attending a meeting here last week on the role of business in the schools.

Panelists for the gathering, which was sponsored by the National Association of Secondary School Principals, agreed that corporate involvement in schools would continue to grow. One educator predicted that businesses eventually will be involved in areas ranging from curriculum development to managing school warehouses.

But Vincent Reed, former superintendent of schools for the District of Columbia, warned that little good will result from a school-business link unless schools are discriminating in the offers they accept from the private sector.

Mr. Reed, now vice president for communications with The Washington Post, said educators tend to accept whatever is offered. That attitude could lead not only to wasted time and materials but to resentment on the part of business, he said.

"When I was appointed superintendent," said Mr. Reed, "I was bombarded with offers of help." Mr. Reed said his insistence on "taking time to assess what we needed" resulted in even more generous offers of help from the private sector.

Mr. Reed was joined at the meeting by Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell; Senator David Durenberger, Republican of Minnesota; P. Michael Timpane, dean of Teachers College at Columbia University; and other educators and representatives of private business.

Measured in the amount of cash contributed, business involvement in the schools is still low.

A 1980 survey of The Conference Board, a private research organization, showed that cash gifts to elementary and secondary education from 800 of the nation's largest companies totaled $12.7 million. "Anecdotal evidence," said Katheryn L. Troy, a sen-ior research associate for the board, suggests that corporate giving to schools is increasing.

Corporate gifts in the past amounted to little more than "guilt money," said Mr. Reed, but the increasing overlap in the needs of schools and businesses makes corporate involvement more important. "And now that there's not enough guilt money to go around, we have to prioritize," he said.

The most valuable corporate contributions to schools, Mr. Reed said, do not always involve cash payments. Business executives' advice about day-to-day management, warehouse storage, and fundraising was the most useful help he received, Mr. Reed said.

Mr. Timpane said "self-interest" would lead public-education foundations, made up mostly of businessmen, to play an increasing role in all aspects of school administration, rather than just the occasional joint projects of the past.

Past efforts to increase corporate involvement in education have failed largely because of suspicions schools and businesses have harbored about each other, Mr. Timpane said. Tensions over desegregation, white flight, and teachers' collective-bargaining demands alienated many businesses from a long-standing involvement in education, he said.

"But more than ever, it appears that education cannot survive alone," said Mr. Timpane. "There must be fewer failures [of education], and that means that corporations are going to be involved in a different way. Things may reach the point where a corporation has to develop its own education system."

Jean L. Harris, vice president for state marketing programs for the Control Data Corporation, said the school-business link is increasingly important because of the rate of technological change in industries from bookkeeping to medicine.

The nassp meeting took place two days before the President's Task Force on Private Sector Initiatives reported its findings to Mr. Reagan. The President has said that "volunteerism" should take the place of some government programs.

A computer bank that lists 2,500 successful private-sector programs is available to any citizen requesting it, Niel Hepp, director of information services for the task force, said last week.

Printouts for specific areas of public policy can be obtained free by writing to Mr. Hepp at the President's Task Force for Private-Sector Initiatives, 734 Jackson Place, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20500, or by calling (202) 395-7362.--ce

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