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N.Y. Private Schools Admonished On Questionable Recruiting Moves

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Intense competition among private schools in New York State for a limited supply of students and teachers has some institutions using below-the-belt tactics to meet their admissions and hiring goals, according to the schools' state association.

Concerned about complaints that several schools in the past year have conducted raids on other schools' students and teachers, among other questionable practices, the New York State Association of Independent Schools has issued a set of guidelines to its 140 member schools on admissions and hiring standards.

"We were hearing that some schools were possibly engaging in practices that are not very healthy for all schools," said Frederick C. Calder, executive director of the n.y.s.a.i.s. "Certain admissions and hiring practices are being driven by marketing concerns, and in the process, ethics have been disregarded."

'Preventative Maintenance'

In the past several years, as the number of high-school age children has fallen, private schools have had to rely on more than the traditional "word-of-mouth" advertising to attract students. And competition for teachers, especially in mathematics, science, and other specialty areas, has become keen.

Over the past year, the complaints received by the association indicated, some schools have engaged in "overt" recruitment of students enrolled in other private schools, asked parents to call the parents of students in other schools to4pressure them to change schools, targeted mailings to those families, and used financial aid as a bargaining chip to attract students.

In their eagerness to attract and retain staff members, Mr. Calder said, some schools have hired teachers whose contracts with other schools were still in force, hired teachers without consulting or getting recommendations from their former schools, and attempted to stop their own staff members from seeking other employment.

The associations' trustees issued 10 guidelines urging schools to avoid these practices. No action has been taken against any school in the association, Mr. Calder said.

"The concern is in preventative maintenance," said Richard F. Barter, headmaster of Collegiate School in New York City and a board member of the association. "Competition is good, but it should exist to give people choice, not to get bodies."

While the association's major concern is relations among private schools, there have been instances involving public schools as well, Mr. Barter said. Public schools cannot break the contracts of employees in other public schools, but they are not bound to honor an employee's contract with a private school, he said.

And as salaries for public-school teachers have risen, jobs in that sector have become more attractive to private-school teachers.

"We see public schools hiring our specialists away in the summer," Mr. Barter said.

Admissions, Hiring Guidelines

The association's "Guidelines of8Good Practice" are not binding, and the group is not an enforcement body, Mr. Calder said. However, the board can recommend that a school's membership be withdrawn under some circumstances.

Most problems between schools on admissions or hiring stem from lack of communication, a preface to the guidelines says. "Rarely does an admissions problem go unsolved if both parties are discussing the case openly and forthrightly," it adds.

Following are the n.y.s.a.i.s. guidelines for admissions practices:

A school should never accept a student without requesting a transcript and other pertinent information from the student's present school.

A school should never accept a student until all financial obligations at his or her present school have been met, including payment of tuition that is due under a late- withdrawal contract.

Although healthy competition is encouraged, schools should not engage in overt recruitment of students from other schools; for example, targeted personal mailings, parents of one school calling parents of another, and personal invitations to recruiting events.

A school should focus on its own strengths and let itself and all others be judged by their performance and reputation in the communities they serve. A school should not allow anyone in an official capacity to discuss with applicants the alleged weaknesses of competitor schools.

Schools should not permit offers of financial aid to be used as a basis of bargaining for students.

Following are the association's suggested guidelines on hiring staff:

A more productive and less secretive atmosphere exists in a school that supports its teachers' ambitions. Obstacles should not be placed in the way of a faculty member who is, without violating the contract, looking for different employment.

A school should neither hire nor make an offer to a teacher or administrator whose contract with another school is in force.

A school should not hire a teacher or administrator without consulting the school or schools where the candidate works or has previously worked.

Written recommendations should be as clear and candid as possible within the bounds of good taste and contemporary standards. At least one oral discussion of a candidate's qualifications should be conducted between schools before an offer is made.

An effort to recruit an employee of another school should not be made without first informing the employee's present head of school.

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