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Take Note: The name game

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What's in a name? Quite a lot, apparently.

The members of the Rochester, Minn., school board found that out when they set about the task of naming the district's third high school, scheduled to open in fall 1997.

The 15,000-student district in the state's southeastern region already has two high schools: Mayo Senior High School, named for William J. and Charles H. Mayo, whose surgical practice evolved into the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, and John Marshall Senior High School, named for the U.S. Supreme Court's fourth chief justice.

The seven-member school board announced months ago that it would delegate the naming process to a panel open to whoever was interested--including parents, teachers, and other city residents.

Last month, the committee voted after five hours of contentious deliberation: 39 for Eleanor Roosevelt High, 37 for Century High, and two abstentions.

But Rochester is a Republican stronghold, and Mrs. Roosevelt's association with the liberal Democratic legacy of her husband, Franklin D. Roosevelt, did not sit well with many community members.

Angry residents spoke out on the committee's pick on local radio talk shows. The local newspaper, the Post-Bulletin, ran editorials and reams of letters to the editor. One resident suggested that if it was a woman leader residents wanted, naming the school Barbara Bush High after President George Bush's wife would be more in tune with the values of the community.

"This is a pretty Republican area. A lot of people here don't like the New Deal," said Al Tuntland, the president of the Rochester school board.

"But I wouldn't have named it Rush Limbaugh High either," he said, referring to the well-known conservative radio commentator. "You just can't put divisive names on schools. They're all named for long-dead presidents, and there's a reason for that."

Public interest in the school's name was high, Mr. Tuntland said, adding, "We've got $100-million-a-year budgets to worry about, and nobody shows up."

But the issue finally has been resolved. On May 7, the school board met and voted Roosevelt High down and voted in Century High.

"The good news is Century stands for absolutely nothing. Therefore, it offends no one," Mr. Tuntland said.

--Lynn Schnaiberg

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