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State Aid Cuts Threaten Schools In Washington

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Seattle--Schools in Washington State may be forced to lay off thousands of teachers in the wake of a budgetary crisis that has forced a sudden 10-percent cut in state school support.

Local school systems are reeling from the shock of the reduction in aid, which may mean the loss of about $330 million in school revenues this year and next, according to Frank B. Brouillet, state superintendent of public instruction. State cuts are particularly devastating in Washington because the state government here provides approximately 90 per-cent of local school systems' revenues, compared to a national average of approximately 50 percent.

Mr. Brouillet said the spending cut may force elimination of from 6,000 to 8,000 school jobs--a prospect educators view as disastrous.

"The schools simply cannot survive," said Reese Lindquist, president of the Washington Education Association. "We're talking about taking the system apart."

In Seattle, the state's largest school district, the budget cut will cost $11.3 million this year and an equal amount next year, according to Pat Moyer, acting assistant superintendent for business. The Seattle system may be forced to close 30 schools and lay off as many as 450 teachers, Mr. Moyer said.

Schools in suburban Kent face a "massive reduction in teachers," said Superintendent George Daniel. "We won't be keeping schools as clean or in repair."

At Highline High School near Seattle, staff members wore black armbands to a meeting on the budget crisis.

"The black stands for the death of public education if the state-ordered budget cuts go through," said Remo Barr, president of the Highline Education Association.

Washington Governor John Spellman ordered the immediate 10-percent cut in all state spending programs in order to avert a deficit now estimated at between $1 billion and $1.5 billion for the current biennium.

State officials say the danger of a deficit has resulted from a recessionary economy that has not recovered as quickly as anticipated, resulting in lower-than-expected tax revenues.

Lawmakers Resist Tax Increase

Governor Spellman has promised to call the legislature into special session in early November to consider ways of raising additional money, but the governor's fellow Republicans, who control both houses of the legislature, have resisted the idea of increasing taxes.

Some lawmakers have suggested other solutions, such as forcing parents to pay the costs of operating kindergartens.

Nevertheless, many school officials say they will try to avoid mass layoffs or program cutbacks until the legislature has a chance to act.

"We are not going to destroy the program until the legislature has a chance to live up to its responsibilities," said Richard Clark, deputy superintendent of schools in Bellevue.

Some local systems may be able to recover some of their budget losses by levying higher property taxes, though state law now restricts local levy levels. The law provides for a lifting of the lid if school revenues drop below certain levels.

High levies will require voter approval, however, and it is now too late to go back to the voters for more money in 1982, since those levies have already been passed.

Lawsuits Filed

At least two lawsuits have been filed by education groups seeking to block the 10-percent cut immediately. The leading suit was brought by the Seattle Public Schools even before the cut was announced.

It charges that the legislature's education appropriation for this year--before the latest cut--already failed to provide for the full costs of "basic education," as required by the state Constitution.

The state Supreme Court is expected to hear the case soon, and attorneys for Seattle have asked the court to issue a temporary injunction against the 10-percent reduction.

If the suit is successful, however, and more money must be directed to elementary and secondary schools, other state programs will suffer even larger cuts, of up to 20 percent, Governor Spellman said.

That prospect has to a degree pitted the schools against other programs, including higher education. "Clearly," President William P. Geberding of the University of Washington has said, "I hope the common schools lose their lawsuit."

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