States News Roundup
The Pennsylvania State Senate has approved legislation that would allow the state's 505 school districts to finance schools through local income taxes instead of property taxes.
The bill--which was passed by a 30-16 vote--would offer school districts the choice of establishing an income tax of up to 3.5 percent or retaining the existing property-tax system to finance the schools.
According to the sponsors of the legislation, the bill would give districts the opportunity to remove the tax burden from property owners, many of whom have fixed incomes and no children in school.
An amendment to the bill would allow participating systems to return to the property-tax system if they did not like the new financing plan.
The bill originally required all systems to use the new plan unless they explicitly elected not to.
Senator John Stauffer, sponsor of the finance measure, said the average taxpayer will pay about the same amount of tax under the new plan. The bill will now be taken up by the House.
Nebraska Governor Charles Thone called the state Legislature into a special session last Friday in order to cut $24.5 million from the state's $733-million general-fund budget.
Governor Thone had promised last spring to call the Legislature back to Lincoln prior to its scheduled January 1982 reconvening date if it appeared that state agencies' expenditures would exceed expected revenues. He stressed in his announcement, however, that the state was not in a financial crisis.
Mr. Thone presented the legislators with a precise outline for state budget efficiencies, which included a call for a 3-percent across-the-board reduction in operating budgets for virtually all state agencies. Several programs, including state subsidies for school lunches, were exempted from the cuts.
The governor said the action would avert a predicted revenue shortage in June 1982. Approximately $10 million of that shortfall results from the recent federal tax cut because the state income tax is tied to a fixed percentage of the federal income tax.
In at least two states, arrangements providing transportation to private-school students at public cost are in danger.
In a Rhode Island case several years old, U.S. District Judge Raymond J. Pettine overturned part of a state law that requires communities to provide bus service for private- or parochial-school students traveling outside the district.
The judge said the law violated the First Amendment provision for separation of church and state. Attorney General Dennis J. Roberts is discussing the possibility of an appeal with state education officials.
In Iowa, the problem is financial, not legal. There, Lieutenant Governor Terry E. Branstad recently called on the Legislature to continue to give the public schools full financial support for busing parochial-school students.
Some 25,000 private-school students, most of them Roman Catholic, take part in the program.
Public-education officials say the $4.4 million the Legislature appropriated for the program will fall short by more than $800,000.
The Legislature said districts whose budgets run short could charge the parents of private-school children, but many systems are reluctant to do so.
Mr. Branstad, president of the Senate, said the Legislature had "estimated costs a little bit too conservatively" in its attempts to hold down spending.
No action will be taken on the problem until the Legislature reconvenes in January.
An emergency board of the Oregon Legislature has resolved a jurisdictional dispute between two state agencies by providing $134,186 for the education of four emotionally disturbed deaf students.
Jan Ryan, legislative liaison for the state Department of Education, said the request for additional money was made under "threat of court action" after the state Department of Human Resources refused to shoulder the expense of sending the students to the state school for the deaf. The education department had not budgeted for the program either, Ms. Ryan said.
The four deaf students had received social-service care before attending the school for the deaf; therefore, education officials argued that they were the responsibility of the human-resources department.
After the human-resources department backed away from the expense, education officials attempted to return the four students to their home districts, according to Ms. Ryan. But a state advocacy group intervened and threatened to sue under P.L. 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. She said education offi
cials had recently evaluated the four students and found they were in need of the full-time, individualized care offered at the school for the deaf.
Ronald D. Burge, deputy state superintendent, said the education department probably will assume responsibility for the educational needs of the four students, while the human-resources department will provide "consultation services."
Kansas, despite only one teachers' strike in its history, needs binding arbitration as the final step in negotiating teachers' contracts, recommends a panel appointed by the governor.
The Governor's Committee on Professional Negotiations decided last week to recommend a procedure similar to the one used to settle contract disagreements between major league baseball players and team owners. Current law requires the school board to act unilaterally on a new contract if both sides fail to agree on a recommendation from a three-member fact-finding panel.
"The committee's recommendation covers the entire package," explained Bob G. Wootton, Governor John Carlin's legislative liaison and representative on the committee. "But it requires the arbitrator to choose either one side or the other's position." The 11-member panel included Dr. Raymond Goetz, professor at the Kansas University School of Law, who was instrumental in developing the procedure used by major-league baseball to resolve salary disputes between players and team owners.
Despite an absence of teachers' strikes, Mr. Wootton said, teachers in several districts have been unhappy with the decisions of local school boards acting under the current law.
Once Governor Carlin receives the
report, he must decide whether to submit the recommendation to the state Legislature that convenes in January. The issue is controversial, Mr. Wootton said, in a state with a long right-to-work history and where the only teachers' strike, in 1971, ended with large-scale firings.
"The general attitude here is, 'We don't want outsiders coming in and making decisions for us,"' Mr. Wootton said. "I expect there will be heavy pressure in the legislature to make sure the arbitrators are local."
Teachers in 15 Minnesota school districts remained on strike last week, out of the 26 districts that have endured walkouts this school year.
St. Cloud, with 850 teachers and 11,000 students, is the largest district currently on strike, according to Charles N. Lentz of the Minnesota Education Association. The St. Cloud strike has lasted more than 20 days, the longest of any strike in the state.
In addition, Mr. Lentz said, 117 local teachers' associations have notified their districts of an "intent to strike," a procedural step that does not necessarily mean a strike is imminent.
The current rash of strikes, by far the greatest number in the state's history, is blamed on the mea's attempt to raise teachers' salaries in small rural districts and on a change in the state law governing strikes by public employees. That change, enacted last year, permits teachers to strike once they have met deadlines for time spent in negotiations and mediation.
By law, teacher contracts in all 436 Minnesota districts run for two years and expire June 30. Mr. Lentz said that the average settlement reached in the current round of negotiations includes a gain during the next two years of $5,000 to $6,000 in salaries, fringe benefits, step increases, and longevity bonuses for teachers.