$CHOOLS ARE IN THE ZONE

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In a switch from its controversial of policy funding high-profile businesses on 125th Street, the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation is expected on Monday to allocate hundreds of thousands of dollars for educational programs to be based in about 20 Harlem schools.

The programs will offer classes in family literacy, computer technology, mentoring, and reading and math skills, according to Richard Schaffer, Director of the Empowerment Zone Monitoring and Assistance Project, a technical assistance group based at Columbia University. Scheduled for launch this summer, the classes have after-school components which will continue in the fall.

Though much of their emphasis until now has been on job creation, zone officials are also concerned about labor force development, Schaffer said. “They’re going to try to improve performance of kids in schools and help them make the transition to jobs,” he said.

The board is also expected to allocate money on Monday for commercial revitalization projects on major business thoroughfares such as 116th, 125th and 181st streets. Funds will go to fix up sidewalks and store facades, improve lighting, build benches and organize merchants, Schaffer said.

The funding decisions anticipated for Monday will bring the board’s total allocations to date to $20 million.

Bankrolled by the federal government as well as the city and the state, the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, which covers Harlem, Inwood and Washington Heights, will have $250 million to spend by the year 2004. The smaller South Bronx zone will have $51 million.

Calls to EZ officials were not returned on Friday.