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E.D. Will Consolidate Desegregation Centers

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Washington--Despite the threat of Congressional action to overturn its plans, the Education Department is going ahead with new regulations that will replace 40 federal desegregation-assistance centers with 10 "super centers."

The department will award three-year grants totaling $10 million for the 10 centers as soon as the regulations take effect this week, according to Lois Bowman, a deputy assistant secretary in the office of elementary and secondary education, which oversees the centers.

Meanwhile, operators of existing centers are reporting that they have virtually suspended their activities for the past two months because the department was late in publishing the new rules for the program, which was created under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Last year's grants expired June 30.

Members of the Congress, civil-rights advocates, and education officials involved in desegregation have sharply criticized the plan to consolidate the centers, which are operated by universities, research firms, and other contractors throughout the country.

The report accompanying the fiscal 1988 appropriations bill passed last month by the House contains language that would order the department to continue funding 40 Title IV centers, each specializing in issues related to race, sex, or national origin. Under the department's new rules, the 10 comprehensive centers will offer school districts training and technical help in all three categories.

Although department officials4maintain that the change will increase the "efficiency and effectiveness" of Title IV, critics argue that it will erode expertise needed to handle complex civil-rights questions. (See Education Week, June 24, 1987.)

Congressional sources said the issue was still being discussed last week, but that a provision overturning the consolidations might be written into a final appropriations report once the spending legislation passes both houses. However, aides said that legislators may wait until next year to take such action, in order to avoid further disruption of services.

"We obey the law here," Ms. Bowman said. But she warned of the likely consequences of any measure rescinding the department's action.

"We would have to close 10 centers, lay off their staffs and start the process again," she said. "We have provided information to the House and Senate regarding how disruptive this would be."

'Crazy With Requests'

In June, department officials informed 10 applicants, nearly all of them current Title IV contractors, that they had been "recommended for funding" to operate the comprehensive centers. The department authorized them to begin providing services to school districts July 1, without a guarantee of reimbursement in the event the awards were not made.

Of eight probable grantees contacted last week, only one had begun offering services. Officials at all eight organizations said they were, nevertheless, receiving numerous requests for aid from school officials.

"We're going crazy with requests right now, as this is the time of year people set up school schedules," said Shirley McCune, director of a center in Denver, Col. "We're saying 'We think we'll be able to help you, but we're not sure.' It doesn't help your credibility."

Officials of some Title IV centers said they would continue lobbying the Congress to block the consolidation. But other center operators, particularly those who are in line for continued funding, argue that this would only hurt the program further.

"I understood the arguments and I sent in my letters, but the time is no longer right," said one director, who asked not to be named. "We could go another year without getting anything."

Some center directors agreed with department officials that the consolidated centers would be more efficient.

"On one hand, it's a loss because you're losing personnel and expertise," Ms. McCune said. "On the other hand, it adds administrative flexibility, and we can begin to put enough resources together in a region to have a significant program."

Likely Recipients

According to sources familiar with the program, the following organizations are expected to be recipients of the grants:

American University, Washington, D.C.; arc Associates, under contract to Southwest Educational Research Laboratory, Los Alamitos, Calif.; Intercultural Development Research Association, San Antonio, Tex.; University of Miami, Miami, Fla.; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich.; Midcontinental Regional Education Laboratory, Denver and Kansas City, Mo.; The Network, a consulting firm, Andover, Mass.; Northwest Regional Education Laboratory, Seattle; and a consortium of higher-education institutions, including New York University and Columbia University, New York City.

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