'Ecstatic' District Officials Get Word on Magnet-Schools Aid

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Washington--A number of school districts enjoyed red-letter days last week after being notified by the Education Department that they had qualified for multi-million-dollar grants for the operation of magnet schools.

For nearly all of the districts, the telephone calls from department officials signaled their first infusion since 1981 of federal aid earmarked for school desegregation. In that year, the Emergency School Aid Act was incorporated into the Chapter 2 block-grants program.

School officials in major urban areas have said that as a result of esaa's demise they have lost a combined annual total of between $50-million and $60 million in federal desegregation aid over the past four years.

Congressional Compromise

The new program, which was authorized as an amendment to a mathematics-and-science bill passed by the Congress last year, represents a compromise between lawmakers who sought to resurrect the $292-million esaa program and those who opposed any tampering with the four-year-old education block grants.

Unlike the esaa program, the new program stipulates that desegregation funds be used for magnet schools only. The grants will cost the government $75 million over two years.

A spokesman for the Education Department declined to comment on the grants, noting that the agency had negotiated the final terms and amounts of the awards in its calls to the school districts. The department is expected to announce the amounts of the grants by Oct. 1.

'Ecstatic' in Rochester

Although the awards are not official yet, school administrators in several districts reacted to the telephone calls from the department with enthusiasm.

"We're ecstatic, absolutely delighted," said Larry O. Maynard, di-rector of grants development and procurement for the Rochester City School District. In practical terms, he said, the district's anticipated two-year, $4-million grant would permit the system to more than double its magnet-school effort, expanding from about 4,000 students enrolled in such schools this year to about 10,000 students in each of the next two years.

In Seattle, however, news that the school district was expected to receive a $3.9-million grant was bittersweet, arriving as it did on the third day of a teachers' strike that continued through late last week.

"Our business and finance manager told me that on any other day he would have been running up and down the halls," noted James R. Hawkins, a spokesman for the Seattle Public Schools. Mr. Hawkins added that the district's expected award may actually have complicated the labor dispute by "[raising] some unrealistic expectations in the mind of the union that [the grant] was the grease toward a settlement."

Funds for 'Option Schools'

According to the spokesman, Seattle officials plan to use the federal money to replace state and local funds committed to the district's magnets, which are called "option schools." Mr. Hawkins said the district planned to use the funds thus freed primarily to hire additionalteachers of "special-needs" students and to purchase textbooks.

According to school officials in Buffalo, notification of a $4-million award for the district was particularly well received because the amount was figured into the district's desegregation budget for the current school year.

"We're definitely elated, largely because a good part of the program is contingent upon those funds," said Kenneth Eckles, the district's assistant superintendent for school integration. Mr. Eckles said the district hopes to use the funds to hire "specialized personnel" for its 22 magnet schools, many of whom would have been hired four years ago if the esaa program had survived.

Vol. 05, Issue 03

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