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Service Loss Seen in Vocational-Unit Dispute

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As the legal contest over the contract for National Center for Research in Vocational Education continued last week, vocational educators said they were facing what one termed an "administrative nightmare'' in obtaining the services that such a center provides.

They also said they welcomed this month's move by members of the Congress to provide temporary funding to both the Ohio State University unit and its West Coast challenger.

"I don't think there is any doubt that the people in the field are feeling the effects of this controversy,'' said Clifton B. Belcher, state director of vocational education in North Carolina. "There is an increased workload on the states in trying to determine where to get information.''

The Education Department awarded the five-year, $30-million grant in January to a consortium headed by the University of California at Berkley. But Ohio State University, which has run the center for 10 years, successfully challenged the award process in federal court.

Defeat for Department

The department is appealing the ruling, but last week it was dealt another defeat. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati overruled the department's request to stay the federal court order that nullified the grant to Berkeley.

The court has not yet ruled on a request by Berkeley to intervene in the case to present arguments in the appeals hearing that has been set for June 8.

In the meantime, an agreement between Senator Howard Metzenbaum, Democrat of Ohio, and Representative Augustus F. Hawkins, Democrat of California, that would provide both Berkeley and Ohio State with $2 million each until the matter is resolved has been attached to the education reauthorization bill. The bill will be voted on this week.

"This is an administrative nightmare,'' said Mr. Belcher. He and other vocational officials contended last week that services to states and school districts would definitely be affected by the loss of staff and funding at Ohio State--losses that will not be compensated for by the barely begun efforts of the Berkeley center, they said.

"It is going to be very difficult to get anywhere near the services we have been receiving,'' said David C. McOuat, who heads the bureau of research, dissemination, and evaluation in Florida's education department. "And by splitting the funds, I think we are fragmenting the effort.''

That view was echoed by David F. Cronin, associate commissioner of occupational education in Massachusetts, who contended that "Berkeley is on a different track in research than Ohio State is.''

"I don't think you will see any coordination of research and assistance between the centers,'' concurred Francis T. Tuttle, president of the American Vocational Association. "The volume of work to be done just won't get done.''

Most vocational educators interviewed said their greatest worry was the reduction in overall services.

State and local administrators rely on the national center to provide research on what does or does not work in vocational-education curricula, programs, and administrative structures, they said.

"If you don't have a national center, then you have 50 states going in 50 different directions, wasting money, and reinventing the wheel,'' said Deborah Walz, who coordinates research and dissemination in Arkansas's vocational education division.

She stressed the need to have a central source of information. But she also contended that educators will miss other services--such as staff-development workshops, program-improvement assistance, and evaluations--that the Ohio State center has provided.

Mr. Belcher agreed, saying that North Carolina officials use the center not only for the latest research findings but also for technical assistance. Frequently, center staff members have come to the state to work with officials in overhauling specific programs or to train staff members, he said.

Research Function Cited

"Vocational education is in a constant state of flux, and it is difficult and costly for individual states to perceive what changes are needed, and to implement those changes, without a national source that looks at the issues and does the initial research,'' Mr. Belcher said.

Madeleine Hemmings, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Vocational Education, noted that "the center is a major factor in replicating good policy and good practice.''

"The institution has been successful, at both the program and policy level, in helping local and state agencies organize,'' she said.

Ray Ryan, director of the center at Ohio State, said more than 1,000 phone requests for information are logged each month. In addition, he said, the center assists more than 1,000 vocational educators a year through workshops--some at the center and some on-site.

Since Mr. Ryan first received word that the Education Department would not be renewing its contract for the center, he has laid off 50 to 60 staff members, he said. The uncertainty has also spurred others to leave the center, he added, with the net result that his staff has shrunk from 220 to 120.

Mr. Belcher and other vocational educators said they also worried that any decline in research and technical assistance coming on the eve of the reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act next year, could negatively affect debate on the measure.

They also pointed to the changing economic climate as an even more vital reason for maintaining the field's research capacity.

"We've just begun working with the center in bringing industry and business into the vocational-education discussion,'' said Joyce Winterton, executive director of the National Council on Vocational Education."Such discussions need to be occurring now, not two years down the road.''

Gerald Hayward, who has been appointed deputy director of the Berkeley center, declined to talk about any aspect of the new center while litigation is pending. He also declined comment on whether his center had begun hiring staff or initiating activities in anticipation of Congressional support.

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