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ADDRESS OBJECTIONS STUDY WILL WAIT

ADDRESS OBJECTIONS STUDY WILL WAIT

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Business leaders in High Point and Greensboro have decided - at least for now - to drop their quest for a federal study of Guilford County schools. The delay, they insist, is not a full retreat, but a tactical withdrawal. Under the circumstances, it is a most sensible withdrawal.Objections to the proposed study were raised as soon as news of it had spread beyond the tight group of business and school leaders who hatched the idea. County commissioners, caught by surprise, wanted to know more before they signed on; the county school board was outright hostile.

The opprobrium came as a surprise to the folks who put together the application. ``I thought people would be patting me on the back to get a nationally recognized consultant to come down here and study the Guilford County school systems,' said Warren Corgan, one of the study application's chief proponents. ``Instead we get this.'

But Corgan and his cohort should not have been startled.

The fundamental education issue in Guilford County isn't curriculum or class size or buildings or any of the other usual academic concerns. It is, instead, whether the county's three school systems should be merged.

Corgan says the grant application is neutral on the merger question. It may find that one system would work better than three, then again, it may not.

But there's probably no coincidence in the fact that business and school leaders who backed the federal study also back merger. The county school board and a majority on the board of commissioners who oppose merger were predictably skeptical. They saw in the study a back-door attempt to merge the school systems.

There is an air of paranoia in the county school board's knee-jerk opposition to any proposal that might lead to merger. Merger opponents who would preserve the county school system at all costs have lost a vision. But their opposition cannot be overlooked. They must be won over by persuasion, not avoided with end-runs.

As controversy grew, even the governor, withdrew his support. He did not want to interfere in a local issue as volatile as merger. Who can blame him?

It's true backers of the study had only 10 days to prepare an application, but that doesn't improve the case for sending it off untested. There was too little time to digest the study's potential ramifications or to gather support.

Enlisting federal money to size up Guilford County schools was never a bad idea; it was just a poorly developed idea. In their haste to get an outside perspective on local schools, business leaders failed to consider politics here at home. A year will give them time to make the case.

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