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Battle Over Franklin Legacy Pits School Against Officials

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A Boston technical school was dealt a major blow last month in its legal battle to claim a legacy from Benjamin Franklin, but the Massachusetts legislature has come to its rescue.

Franklin, who was born in Boston and attended grammar school there, stipulated in a codicil to his 1790 will that Ë1,000 sterling be left in trust to his hometown to provide low-interest loans to apprentice craftsmen to help them start businesses.

More than 200 years later, the remaining proceeds of that gift have been at the center of a dispute between Boston and the state of Massachusetts, on one side, and, on the other side, the Franklin Institute, the small technical college established in 1905 in part with money from Franklin's estate.

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, the state's highest court, ruled last month that the trust had expired in 1991 and, in accordance with Franklin's will, the remaining $4.6 million should go to the state and city governments, not to the school.

The school had argued that it was entitled to the money because of a 1958 state law that terminated the trust early and gave the funds to the school. But that law was nullified by a 1960 ruling of the Supreme Judicial Court, and the court reaffirmed that ruling last month.

Franklin's will stipulated that after using the trust for loans to apprentice craftsmen in the first 100 years after his death, the money should be used in the next century for "public works.'' After 200 years, the remainder was to go to the state and city governments, Franklin said, because he was "not presuming to carry my views further.''

Legislature Steps In

But the Franklin Institute may end up getting most of the money from its namesake's trust after all. The state legislature last week approved a supplemental budget bill that would give the state's share of the trust, 74 percent of the $4.6 million, to the technical college. The bill has been sent to Gov. William F. Weld.

Richard D'Onofrio, the president of the Franklin Institute, said in an interview that getting the money would be appropriate because the school was established by the city of Boston with funds from the trust.

"We are unique to Massachussetts,'' Mr. D'Onofrio said of the institute, which despite its public status relies entirely on tuition from its approximately 300 students for operations. The school specializes in engineering and industrial technology; most of the students are from disadvantaged backgrounds, and many are learning English as a second language.

Mr. D'Onofrio said he will seek a grant similar to one provided in 1905 by Andrew Carnegie. The industrialist matched the $408,000 that came from the Franklin trust to establish the school.

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