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Budget 'Rebellion' Reported at School-Safety Center

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A threatened $158,000 budget cut at the National School Safety Center, the centerpiece of the Reagan Administration's program to promote school discipline, has reportedly led to the firing of three center employees and caused a brief staff "rebellion" there.

The budget cut is part of a larger effort by the U.S. Justice Department to transfer nearly $13 million in unspent funds from its office of juvenile justice and delinquency prevention--funds which would otherwise be in the office's fiscal 19853budget--to the U.S. Marshals Service, said a department spokesman.

The transfer of fiscal 1985 money requires Congressional approval, but a House appropriations subcommittee last week recommended that $12.2 million remain in the juvenile-justice budget.

Questions about the effectiveness of the school-safety center, which publishes and disseminates information relating to school discipline, were expected to be raised this week at a Senate oversight hearing on the juvenile-justice office.

The Administration, while seeking to reinvigorate the school-discipline issue, has asked that the Congress not appropriate money for juvenile-justice activities in fiscal 1986.

Controversial Grant

The school-safety center is affiliated with Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., and is based in Sacramento. It was established and funded by the Administration last year with a noncompetitive two-year grant of $3.95 million.

The noncompetitive award spurred investigations by House and Senate staff members last year because the center's director, George Nicholson, is a long-time associate of Attorney General Edwin Meese 3rd, who was counselor to the President at the time of the grant.

"There certainly is circumstantial evidence of political favoritism in the awarding of the grant, and the best way to avoid such charges is to hold a competition," a House aide said last year. (See Education Week, May 23, 1984.)

Dissension Reported

The center has been beset by internal dissension in recent months, according to the Washington-based newsletter Child Protection Report.

The newsletter reported that the expected budget cut forced Mr. Nicholson to dismiss three employees,3who seemed to "disagree with him philosophically." The firings "triggered a rebellion in the ranks," said the newsletter, with most of the 27-member staff refusing to work with Mr. Nicholson.

The Child Protection Report article quoted one of the ousted employees but did not name him.

Mr. Nicholson, the newsletter said, was placed on administrative leave of absence while university officials interviewed the remaining employees at the center. Subsequently, the newsletter reported, Mr. Nicholson met with the staff and Pepperdine's president, David Davenport, and settled the dispute.

Mr. Nicholson could not be reached for comment last week, but Pepperdine officials deny that he was placed on administrative leave.

Patti L. Yomantas, director of public information at Pepperdine, said that Mr. Nicholson is on vacation and that the newsletter's portrayal of problems at the center was inaccurate.--jh

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