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Businesses Refuse To Sign 'Boston Compact II'

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Boston business officials, who six years ago launched one of the nation's most comprehensive partnerships with a local school system, abruptly announced last week that they would not renew their agreement until the schools speed up the progress of reforms.

"We are not prepared to endorse the expenditure of another $100 million over the next four years if the rate of improvement will be no greater than it was the last four years," said Ferdinand Colloredo-Mansfeld, chairman of the board of the Boston Private Industry Council Inc.

"We cannot continue to lose nearly half of the student body between the 9th grade and graduation," he said. "The cost to our community, to our city, to our own people, of this failure is too high."

Mr. Colloredo-Mansfeld, who spoke at the annual meeting of the pic, said that he had intended to announce an agreement on a new "Boston Compact," which would guarantee jobs and college tuition for high-school graduates in return for improvements in student achievement and reforms in school organization.

But, he said, "we are not ready to sign this new compact" until the schools "change the rules."

The changes, according to Mr. Colloredo-Mansfeld, should include the "school-based management" form of organization currently being implemented in other urban districts such as Dade County, Fla., and Rochester, N.Y.

The schools must also develop a student-assignment system that allows some parental choice, he said.

James Darr, president of the pic, said the announcement was not intended to criticize school officials, but to apply "friendly pressure" to spur improvements.

"Our dissatisfaction is not with the leadership of the schools, but with the pace of change," said Mr. Darr, who is vice president of the State Street Bank. "Education is too important to be satisfied with modest change."

But John A. Nucci, president of the Boston School Committee, reportedly accused the business lead8ers of "putting a gun to the school committee's head."

"The business community doesn't have the right," he told the Boston Globe, "to put a gun to the school committee's head and say 'Get these things done or else."'

Other observers suggested that the announcement, while dramatic, would have little practical effect on the businesses' relations with the schools.

"As a practical matter, businesses will work closely with Boston schools," said Ellen Guiney, Mayor Raymond L. Flynn's education adviser. "They are very committed to the graduates, and will continue to hire them."

"The labor market is tight," she added. "Everyone needs good ems.''

However, Ms. Guiney acknowledged, "if they never sign, the symbolic loss to Boston would be dramatic."

Under the original Boston Compact, signed in 1982, businesses pledged to hire Boston's high-school graduates if the schools lowered the dropout rate, raised student test scores, and moved forward on a number of stated goals.

In many respects, business and school officials say, both parties have held up their end of the bargain.

"There is no question that student attendance, student achievement, the number of students going to college and to full-time employment are up dramatically," said Mr. Darr. "A lot of things have happened favorably."

Nevertheless, he noted, the persistently high dropout rate and low levels of achievement demonstrate the need for greater improvements.

"The feeling here is that the compact has not been a failure," he added. "Even so, if you look at 1988, it has not been sufficient."

To produce greater progress, the parties from the original compact drew up a second agreement that would set higher goals for school performance and set in motion changes to achieve them.

Under the proposed "Boston Compact II," schools would continue to reduce the dropout rate and raise achievement-test scores; increase parental involvement; provide greater opportunities for decisionmaking by teachers and building-level administrators; and provide follow-up assistance for graduates up to four years after graduation.

Several of the proposed changes are already under way, officials noted. For example, the Boston Teachers Union, which is negotiating with the school department over a new contract, has proposed giving teachers more authority over funding and curriculum.

And the school committee next month is expected to consider a new student-assignment plan that would give parents a role in choosing their children's schools.

The delay in starting the new compact will enable these proposals to move forward, suggested Mr. Darr.

"This is so important, all the conditions necessary to implement it also need to be in place," he said.

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