In Boston: busing revolt fades; city learns to adapt

''School desegregration is here to stay in Boston,'' says Robert Spillane, the superintendent who is seeking to restore local controls to public schools after eight years under a federal ''big brother,'' US District Judge W. Arthur Garrity. The judge is phasing himself out of a system that went from 90,000 students and 65 percent white in 1974 when he ordered schools desegregated to a current 57,000 and 32 percent white.

Dr. Spillane has the task of transforming the school system into a ''first class'' operation, as opposed to the racially torn setup it often seemed to be under what critics call ''forced busing,'' a state of affairs that gobbled up six superintendents in eight years.

He offers this premise for the nation's oldest public school system:

''All children can learn - whether poor, white, black, Hispanic, minority, inner city, or affluent. Because of the city's segregated housing patterns, busing will continue. The old neighborhood school within walking distance no longer exists in the urban racial and ethnic communities of today's society.''

Spillane sends his children - at least one is bused - to public schools. He makes one request of the judge: leave a simplified final court decree emphasizing good schools at the end of the bus ride.

The school board voted Spillane a four-year contract after he served the final year of a fired superintendent's term. He won the vote of one of two black members who had declared a ''lack of confidence'' in him.

He claims progress - a code of discipline, standards of competency in grades K to 8, increased efforts to inform parents of new curriculum objectives, and improved test scores, both at classroom levels and in Scholastic Aptitude Tests for college entry.

Spillane lists one more roadblock - a contract with the Boston Teachers Union. He seeks more management control over teacher contracts. He promises job stability and security. ''We are starting early to negotiate a new contract,'' he says, adding that his goal is to avoid a strike.

Mayor Kevin H. White praises Spillane as a superintendent who will ''restore confidence in public schools.'' The mayor backed his words with $5 million in additional funds for the schools, a contrast to level funding in recent years.

In addition, local industry has signed a pact to offer students training and jobs.

''In the past, business has seen Boston public schools as a weak link,'' Spillane says. ''Now industry calls it good business to work to help us become a first-rate school system.''

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