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BOARD DROPS RACE AS CRITERION FOR MAGNET SCHOOL ADMISSION

Race will not be used as a factor for gaining admission to most of Buffalo's magnet schools next year.

The Buffalo School Board voted, 7-1, Wednesday night to adopt an interim strategy for the 2000-01 school year that will use a straight lottery admission system to magnet schools that do not use admission tests. Central District member Jan Peters voted no.

The interim policy changes an admission practice that had its origin with the 1976 federal desegregation order. The decision to drop race as an admission criterion comes as the district tries to find a comfortable balance in a rapidly changing atmosphere.

Court decisions around the country have started to rule against use of race as an admission criterion, which had become almost standard practice in dozens of districts.

The interim plan will affect 13 magnet schools ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade, including some with popular special programs.

The plan will not affect City Honors, the Olmsted School or Hutchinson-Central Technical High School, which use admission tests, or the Buffalo Academy for Visual & Performing Arts, which uses an audition.

Peters spoke out strongly against the change.

"I don't think there is a crisis facing the district, and I don't think it is a good idea to make this kind of change on a short-term basis," she said. "This district historically has set up a policy to use race as a factor. Now the best we can say when we get a lot of folks mad when they can't get their child in a preferred school is, 'We might get sued.' "

"Ms. Peters, you don't want to recognize the reality of the world, and that reality is the definition of diversity has changed," at-large member Donald A. Van Every replied. "This is not a defense against potential lawsuits. This is a step in the right direction."

In other action Wednesday, the board unanimously adopted a resolution that will keep the Buffalo Vocational Technical Center open.

East District member Marlies Wesolowski, who pushed hard to get the school closed so it could be used to relieve overcrowding in lower grades, missed the meeting because of injuries from a car accident last week.

In a telephone interview after the vote, Wesolowski gave a qualified endorsement of the decision, which still allows the district to revamp the vocational center program. Some courses
may be eliminated, and the district may put some lower grades into the school as early as next fall, while keeping the vocational component.

That move could help relieve overcrowding, while offering vocational training to younger students. At Peters' suggestion, the board also directed its staff to prepare a report on overcrowding.

"I'm relieved that they are going to be addressing the issue of overcrowding in the district," Wesolowski said.

She still thinks the original plan to convert the building to a junior high school would have been the best use of the space, though.

The board had voted in August to disperse the vocational center's programs to other high schools and close the vocational center, which has been criticized for low attendance and poor performance.

But the decision triggered such a strong public protest that the board has spent most of the past five months searching for a way out of the unpopular decision.

The board Wednesday also unanimously voted to appointYvonne Hargrave interim associate superintendent for instruction.

Hargrave, currently assistant superintendent for student support services, will be filling the vacancy created when Associate Superintendent Marion Canedo was appointed interim superintendent two weeks ago. Former Superintendent James Harris resigned Jan. 9.

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