New round of setbacks shakes already troubled Boston public school system

Boston's public school system, under court order to provide "quality desegregated education," faces a new series of crises that may prolong judicial control of schools in what was expected to be a calm year.

The city's 64,000 elementary and secondary students, some of them in their seventh year under the watchful eye of US District Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr., attend schools in a system that has been shaken in the past two weeks by:

* A racial riot in troubled South Boston High School.

* The arrest and subsequent resignation of a school board member in an alleged extortion attempt involving a contract with an out-of-state busing firm.

* An wildcat strike by union drivers employed by the same firm.

* The refusal of Mayor Kevin White to authorize additional money for the 1980 -81 school year in spite of a court order to fund a negotiated raise for teachers.

The mayor refuses to authorize more than the minimum $195 million for the 1980-81 school year as required by state law, although a local superior court has ordered him to add $15.1 million to fund pay hikes for teachers. The school committee has requested $236 million.

* A recommendation by the acting superintendent of schools -- who has only 4 1/2 months left to serve -- that all sports programs be dropped, that 60 administrators be dismissed, and that other measures be taken to try to save up to $6 million in budgetary expenses.

These troubles may delay the anticipated withdrawal of Judge Garrity from surveillance of the system that he ordered desegregated in 1974. Garrity, who had planned to withdraw by December, has scheduled his next court hearing in the matter for Oct. 29.

Meanwhile, a federal grand jury is probing accusations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that resulted in the Oct. 2 arrest of school committeeman Gerald F. O'Leary, a desegregation foe, on charges that he sought to extort $650 ,00 from ARA Services Inc., a Philadelphia firm that has a $40 million contract to bus 27,500 of the city's schoolchildren.

Two other school committee members testified before the grand jury Oct. 9 under subpoena.

In the meantime, white students have been boycotting South Boston High School , long the focal point of resistance to court-ordered busing.

A free-for-all between white and black students Oct. 2 had caused officials to close the school for two days. Since it reopened, fewer than 20 percent of the white students have been reporting for classes each day. About 50 percent of the black and other nonwhite students have attended.

This boycott comes at a time when more than 80 percent of the city's students had attended school daily -- the highest percentage yet under desegregation. A department spokesman called attendance at other schools "normal."

School attendance has dropped steadily this past week, however, because of the work stoppage by drivers under the ARa contract, which contains a no-strike clause. The drivers are protesting a reduction in the time alloted for making safety checks of their buses, a reduction in the number of bus monitors, and other conditions. A court order requiring the drivers to go back to work was issued Oct. 10.

But with only 25 percent of the drivers reporting for duty, the Boston School Department conceded Oct. 15 that the strike was "still 90 percent effective." A contempt hearing was to be held as this issue was going to press.

Against this background, acting superintendent Paul Kennedy awaits a school committee vote on the proposals to reorganize his administration, whcih would drop several of his ousted predecessor's top aids. Dr. Robert Wood, who held the position previously, was fired by the committee two weeks before schools opened.

The committee meets again Oct. 21. No one is sure what a reconstituted panel -- Mr. O'Leary's replacement already has been sworn in -- may decide. However, two black school department officials already have announced that they are resigning their posts, and other blacks in the system have suggested that more minority administrators may soon follow suit.

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