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Only Black Contractors Sought For $41 Million Dade School

The Dade County, Fla., school district has announced that it will consider only African-American contractors for a $41 million project to build a new high school in the northwestern section of Miami.

The district is responding, in part, to an independent report that found disparities in the awarding of school-construction contracts. Only 9 percent of the district's construction budget in 1991-92 went to black-owned construction companies, according to a school spokesman.

The school system chose Northwestern High School--the only formerly all-black high school to remain open after desegregation--for symbolic as well as practical reasons, said Eddie A. Coletti, an assistant principal at the high school.

Logistical and security concerns at the existing facility played a role in the district's decision, Mr. Coletti said. While there are no serious structural problems, the campus has seven separate buildings that are difficult to monitor.

The school will stay open until the new one is completed on an adjacent site. Construction is expected to begin this spring.

Breaking Ground in L.A.: Plans for the first new high school in Los Angeles in 20 years call for a 24-acre complex that includes commercial shops and low-priced housing, said school officials, who predicted that the project will become a model for urban planners.

The Japanese company that owned the land slated for the school project decided to sell it to the school district for $30 million after giving up its plans to build a retail, residential, and office complex.

Officials said the building will allow 2,000 students to walk to school and will relieve crowding at Belmont High School, the district's largest campus.

Officials expect the project to take four years to complete and to cost about $50 million.

Separate Systems Charged: The Madison, Wis., school district operates separate education systems for black and white students, a report issued by a Wisconsin think tank contends.

Although Madison generally is regarded as a top urban district, the conservatively oriented Wisconsin Policy Research Institute says in the report, its black students fare as poorly as those in the state's most troubled urban systems.

The district's black students, the report says, score lower on standardized tests and are more likely to be suspended or declared learning-disabled or emotionally disturbed than their white counterparts. More than half the black students in the district's middle schools were suspended last year.

Michael J. McCabe, a district spokesman, responded that black children fare worse not because the district operates two education systems, but because it operates a single, inflexible system that has failed to adapt to changing populations. He said the district is working to address the problem.

Detroit At-Risk Program: The Detroit school board last week voted to launch a special program for at-risk minority students in 12 elementary schools over the next two years.

The widely used program, developed by the Yale University psychiatrist James P. Comer, stresses school autonomy and parental involvement and establishes teams of mental-health professionals to work with students.

The Detroit-based Skillman Foundation tentatively has offered to fund the program for up to 10 years.

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