After 14 years, busing in Boston rolls to a stop

Boston public schools will end 14 years of ``forced busing'' when school opens in September 1989. The Boston School Committee (school board) voted 10 to 1 on Wednesday to adopt a ``parental choice'' pupil-assignment plan. This will be the first major change in pupil assignment after 14 years of desegregation ordered in 1974 by United States District Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr.

School Supt. Laval Wilson is working on what he calls the ``framework'' of a plan to implement the program. The school board will make a final vote by Feb. 1, 1989, on Superintendent Wilson's plan.

Parental choice could become the model for other urban school systems operating under court-ordered desegregation.

The new policy is expected to work because it is endorsed by both anti-busing and pro-desegregation leaders of the past. Its leading advocate is Mayor Raymond Flynn, who in 1974 was an ardent supporter of Louise Day Hicks, then a school board member who obstinately opposed what she called ``forced busing.''

``Controlled choice assignments give parents more freedom in selecting schools for their children while maintaining racial desegregation without causing white flight from urban communities,'' says Charles Willie, one of the consultants on the plan hired by Mayor Flynn. Mr. Willie was also an original architect of Boston's desegregation policy in 1974.

``I'm very pleased because this is a substantially better policy than the one we now have. It provides an opportunity for us to look carefully at schools not selected by parents,'' says Dr. Wilson, who is the first black superintendent of Boston schools. He is now in his fourth year of office.

Controlled choice proposes that:

The school system will be divided into geographical districts. Parents may send their children to any of the schools in the district. The one restriction will be that they do not upset the racial balance in each school.

School plants, many of them aging and poorly maintained, will be brought up to standard. This may include additional facilities such as physical education, science, and dining that older buildings lack.

The school system will be committed to upgrading the quality of education with goals such as reducing dropout rates, improving test scores, and resolving problems of bilingual education.

These are reasonable goals, Wilson says, but he does not foresee implementation of the new plan in one giant step. He suggests limitation of freedom of choice within districts in the first year to grades one, six, and nine, years when the children enter a new phase of their education.

Skeptics ask: How will additional expenses be paid?

The school committee proposes the budget, but the city council and mayor must approve it. Expenses would include cost of consultants, improving of school buildings, and upgrading educational offerings of districts with magnet schools, bilingual education, library facilities, and other educational needs.

Another intangible concerns the support private industry will be willing to give the schools. Currently relations between business and the schools have helped schools develop programs that make high school graduates ``job ready.''

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