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Boston school crisis: battleground for local politicians

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Boston's public schools are closed for spring vacation -- and unless city politicians can agree among themselves, they may not open again until next fall.

When vacation ends on April 27, the school department will have run out of money, 38 days short of the 180 school days required by state law, and $30 million short of the $240 million needed for America's oldest public school system to complete its 348th year.

The possibility that the system's 64,000 urban students could be thrown out on the streets -- with few jobs during 4 1/2 months of warm weather -- has spurred late-night attempts to resolve a crisis which most observers recognize as political rather than financial.

At issue is a home-rule bill needing ultimate approval of the state legislature and Gov. Edward J. King. It would allow the city to borrow $75 million (part of which would fund the school deficit) and add several new taxes to help repay the loan.

Most observers believe the schools will reopen after the current vacation. But the major protagonists in the crisis -- the school commitee, the city council, and Mayor Kevin H. White -- have found the proposals and counterproposals for the bill so tangled that the entire issue may have to be unraveled by the courts.

Each group is determined to use the current difficulty, and the public anxeity it has generated, to force major changes in the city's political structures:

* The school committee, accused of irresponsibly overspending its $210 million appropriation, says Mayor White intentionally underfunded the schools last fall and should have foreseen the crisis.

* The mayor, refusing to bail out the schools unless he can place budgetary curbs on the semiautonomous school committee, has angered the city council with what they see as his own high-spending and imperious ways.

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