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ROBERT M. Bennett was a compromise candidate to represent Western New York on the State Board of Regents, but that doesn't make him a second-rate choice. The State Legislature has done well in appointing Bennett to what is best described as the state's school board.

Since 1985, Bennett has been the outstanding president of the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County. He is a consensus builder who approaches his tasks with thoroughness and professionalism. He is a proven community leader.

Even though Bennett's appointment was largely the work of area Democratic legislators, he has a history of strict non-partisanship required by his United Way position. As he functions on the board, Bennett should be evaluated on a non-partisan basis by the Albany politicians.

Bennett will not go it alone. He plans to create a large and diverse local advisory committee to bring viewpoints to him. It's a good idea that recognizes that people from many backgrounds have a stake in how well the education system is performing.

Bennett's most valuable contribution to the Board of Regents may well be his exper
tise in the human-service field. More and more, it is becoming obvious that pupils cannot be expected to do their best in school if they come from troubled homes. The baggage they bring to school doesn't go away when they enter the classroom.

There are efforts in many places, including Buffalo, to develop what are called community schools. School buildings would go beyond their traditional role to be the home of social-service agencies, recreational programs, adult education and neighborhood social activities. Name it and it probably could have a role in a community school.

The United Way under Bennett's leadership played an important part in creating the Family Support Center at the Sweet Home schools. More than 10 social agencies help district families with problems they are not solving alone.

Bennett's United Way background in evaluating the work of myriad social agencies will make him a prime leader in any move toward expanding the community-school concept in New York State. The Regents will be fortunate to have his expertise in the board room.

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