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Some Washington insiders are predicting that conservatives will try to snarl another Education Department nomination.

Thomas W. Payzant's nomination to be assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education hit a pothole due to his role in barring the Boy Scouts, which excludes homosexuals, from conducting in-school programs when he was superintendent in San Diego.

Although Senate aides say he will be confirmed, Mr. Payzant was grilled during a hearing and his nomination has been delayed.

Some insiders say a similar fate awaits Ramon Cortines, the former San Francisco superintendent tapped to be assistant secretary for intergovernmental and interagency affairs. He's also a finalist for the New York City chancellor's job.

"Any problems Tom has, Ray Cortines has in spades,'' one lobbyist said. "After all, we're talking about San Francisco here.''

One Administration official said Mr. Cortines "has no Boy Scout problem,'' but another foresaw "an ugly scene.''

A spokesman for the San Francisco schools said it adopted a policy identical to San Diego's during Mr. Cortines' tenure, and that it also has a counseling program for gay students. Both were initiated by a school board member.

An aide to Sen. Daniel R. Coats, R-Ind., who has led the charge against Mr. Payzant, said nomination papers have not been filed, and the Senator has not checked Mr. Cortines' background.


Mr. Cortines did something in June that federal officials don't usually do--disagree publicly with the President.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, he told a group of school volunteers in the city it might not be a bad idea to give parents vouchers that they could use at private schools.

Kathryn Kahler, an Education Department spokeswoman, said Mr. Cortines made the remark in response to a question, and he also noted the Administration's opposition to vouchers.


Former Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander plugged his Nashville-based Republican satellite-television network last month at a conference for Concerned Educators Against Forced Unionism, showing clips from town meetings focused on everything from school choice to deficit reduction.

The network also bestows a monthly award on the Democrat "who does the best job of explaining Republican principles.''

One went to President Clinton, who adamantly opposes vouchers, for sending his daughter Chelsea to a private school.--J.M. & J.R.

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