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Texas Teachers Union Criticizes Proposed Amendments

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Texans will vote next month on amendments to the state constitution that are currently under attack by the Texas Federation of Teachers (tft), on the grounds that they mean "potential disaster" for the state's public schools.

Among seven proposed amendments are two that John E. Cole, president of the afl-cio-affiliated tft, said would leave Texas's schools "high and dry."

Proposition 4, introduced by House Speaker William W. Clayton, is a proposal to use "surplus" state revenues to establish a Water Trust Fund. Up to half of the surplus, a figure set by the state comptroller's office every two years, would be available to finance various6projects in water supply, quality, conservation, and flood control.

The other half would pay off state government bonds. Under current law, the money is spent as the legislature sees fit.

Mr. Cole, who calls the proposal "Billy Clayton's West Texas Water Works," said that in recent years the surplus funding has allowed Texas to increase educational spending without increased taxation, but "Proposition 4 would hand over much of that 'surplus' money to Billy's pet water works, leaving us up the creek without a paddle," he said.

Mr. Cole says that the legislature is traditionally reluctant to raise taxes, but may have to do so if half the surplus fund is made available to water projects and half to state bonds, effectively taking all surplus money out of the appropriations process.

Proposition 6 would allow local school boards, city councils, and county commissioners to exempt up to 40 percent of the value of homesteads from property taxes in 1982-84.

Mr. Cole says that the amendment could require cuts of up to 20 percent in local school budgets."Add to that loss the revenue lost through President Reagan's federal budget cuts," he said, "...and the fact that state surplus money will be dedicated to water projects, and the disaster becomes total."

If state legislators are serious about lowering taxes, Mr. Cole says, they could raisehool revenues by increasing the "severance" tax on mineral wealth taken out of the state by about 10 percent, which would eliminate the need for property taxes altogether.

In response to Mr. Cole's statements, Mr. Clayton asserted that Texas is and intends to remain generous to public education. Of the $26.6 billion appropriated by the legislature in its latest session, he noted, $13.5 billion is marked for education. In a related development, the state announced that the Permanent School Fund (psf), established in Texas's constitution, has topped $3 billion.

The money in the fund comes primarily from oil and gas rights leased by the state. Only the interest from the psf--now about $300 million per year--can be used. Payments are made to local districts to be used at their discretion.--A.H.

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