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Private Ed. Corporation Would Bolster D.C. Schools

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Washington--A District of Columbia task force chaired by a distinguished former government official has developed an innovative concept, being used on a smaller scale in some districts nationwide, to encourage public and private schools within the metropolitan area around Washington to stretch budget dollars and raise educational standards.

The concept is that of a private education corporation, which would be established by the cooperating institutions to provide high-caliber and cost-effective services to the participants under a contractual arrangement.

In a report issued by the Greater Washington Research Center, the local research firm that sponsored the task force's efforts, the task force contends that an educational corporation is needed to ensure that the public schools in the area continue to improve as resources decline.

The task force was chaired by Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, who retired recently as president of the World Bank. The educational-services corporation proposed by the task force would provide consultation services and workshops for teachers; upgrade mathematics and science curricula; offer alternative programs for dropouts and potential dropouts;

and administer programs for students with special problems.

Initially, the report asserts, the corporation would need financial support from foundations and business corporations; but after a period of time, it would become self-sustaining.

In contrast to "the large bureaucratic structure which our local school districts have become," according to the report, the corporation would be small and flexible and it could offer specific types of assistance to the districts under a contract.

Such corporations that assist local school districts with rising costs in education are becoming increasingly popular nationwide. However, the task force's recommendation for the Washington area poses an unusual arrangement because it would involve six school districts from two states and the District of Columbia schools.

Joan Maxwell, project director for the research firm, said that the feasibility of an educational-services corporation will be explored through a grant from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation. She said, however, that it is still too soon to gauge the reaction of local school officials.

Daniel L. Brown, the spokesman for the Arlington County schools, said he has not seen the report, but added that the corporation would eliminate duplication of services in the area.

In conducting its research, the task force surveyed school districts in Washington; Prince George's and Montgomery counties in Maryland; and the city of Alexandria, and Fairfax and Arlington counties in Virginia. The results of that survey, according to the report, showed spiraling educational costs, declining student enrollment, and a need for additional educational services.

For example, the report contends that special-education programs in the districts are neither adequate nor cost-effective. The proposed corporation, according to the report, could establish and manage a school for children with emotional or learning problems that could operate year-round and still save school officials money.

As an independent entity, the corporation could also act as a broker between school districts and private schools to develop cost-effective programs and to assist with research and development. Such advance planning, the report says, would enable schools to avoid making long-term commitments without first testing experimental programs.

Moreover, the report contends, the corporation could facilitate cooperative programs between the schools and the private sector. In particular, the report cites programs in science, mathematics, and computer science.

Among the six school systems surveyed, according to the report, student enrollment has declined by nearly 21 percent, from 573,920 in 1974 to 452,157 in 1981.

In the next five years, the report says, that trend will continue because of the migration of families to other regions of the country and the increasing popularity of private schools in the area.

"While all public-school systems in the area have lost students," the report says, "private schools generally have held their own or exhibited absolute gains."

Despite the enrollment declines in the public schools, the report notes, none of the six districts had reduced staffing levels in proportion to the loss of students. The report estimates, however, that about 2,500 teachers will be laid off by 1987 because of pressure to increase teachers' pay and the unlikelihood of any increase in federal aid.

The report also estimates that educational costs will continue to increase as a result of inflation, and increases in wages and benefits. Since 1975, the combined operating expenses for the six districts have increased by more than 64 percent, from $853 million to $1.4 billion last year.

By 1987, the report notes, their combined budgets will increase by an additional $500 million.

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