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E.D. Reviewing Magnet-School Grant Compliance

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The Department of Education has reduced the second year of a federal magnet-schools grant to one district after at least one of its magnet schools failed to meet the program's desegregation guidelines, department officials said last week.

The performance of an additional four districts was being reviewed last week, they added. They said all stand to lose a portion of their funding.

The actions reflect the fact that the department is monitoring the magnet-schools-assistance program much more closely this year than it did during the Reagan Administration, according to several district officials and education consultants familiar with the program.

Department officials, citing privacy considerations, said they would not release the names of the affected districts until all the reviews have been completed.

Other sources said districts experiencing delays--and facing possible funding cuts--included Seattle, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and at least one community district in New York City.

Collin Williams, assistant superintendent for multicultural and at-risk services in Seattle, confirmed that the department had held up some $400,000 of the $3.2 million in magnet-grant money that the district had expected to receive this year.

Poughkeepsie officials said they had not heard as of late last week whether their $611,000 grant would be renewed.

The magnet-schools-assistance program is a two-year competitive-grants program designed to reduce, prevent, or eliminate racial isolation in the public schools.

Most of the 53 districts that won grants last year were informed months ago that their grants would be renewed this year.

Districts are required to apply for the second-year funding, but, in the past, the grants have been routinely approved, several people familiar with the program said last week.

'A Stronger Stand?'

This year, however, department officials raised concerns about specific schools in eight districts, and required local officials either to prove that the schools had met desegregation goals or to submit plans to remedy the problems.

"My understanding is that the [department's office for civil rights] is taking a stronger stand this cycle," said David K. Lerch, former chief of special projects in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare,rrently works with districts preparing magnet-grant proposals.

"They are more literally interpreting whether schools are reducing, eliminating, or preventing racial isolation from happening," he said.

But Alicia Coro--director of school-improvement programs, which includes the magnet-schools program--said the program has not been changed.

"We have not changed any requirements," said Ms. Coro, who served as acting assistant secretary for civil rights in 1986 and 1987.

"There were a few school districts which, according to the data they provided to the department, were not meeting the objectives called for in their desegregation plan," she said.

The department has been collecting data from and negotiating with the districts and will only cut funding for schools that do not meet program requirements, she said.

Any funding the department does withhold will be distributed among other grant winners, she said.

The O.C.R. apparently began tightening its evaluation of district desegregation plans last year, during the initial round of grant applications.

After O.C.R. officials identified concerns with some of the grant proposals, they required seven districts, including all whose grants are currently in jeopardy, to sign special assurances that the problems would be addressed during the first year of the magnet funding.

In another change from past practice, the department has also significantly increased its on-site reviews of magnet programs this year.

"We hadn't had any site visits in previous years that I'm aware of,'' said Charles R. Cassidy, who oversees a state magnet-schools program the New York State Department of Education. "But this year we've definitely had eight or nine site visits."

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