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Massachusetts Schools 'Took the Brunt' of Proposition 2

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A report prepared by the Massachusetts Department of Education supports the view of school officials statewide that of all the services affected by the enactment of Proposition 2--the tax-limitation measure--education programs have been hit the hardest.

Local education expenditures dropped by $136 million during the fiscal year 1982, a 5.5 percent reduction from the previous year's total, according to the report. At the same time, state expenditures for other services rose $28 million, an increase of nearly 1 percent. "This is proof that the schools are suffering more than any other segment of city government," said Terry Zoulas, a spokesman for the state department of education.

He said the report "confirms what [Education Commissioner John H. Lawson] has observed in his travels" around the state: that students don't have textbooks, teachers have been laid off, and that "there is a need for more state aid."

The report, which was submitted to the state board last month, was compiled from data collected during the fiscal years 1981 and 1982 from the 379 local school systems in the state. Proposition 2 was approved by voters in November 1980 and implemented the following year.

Fought for by voter groups who argued that citizens of "Taxachusetts" bore the highest state and local tax burden in the nation, the initiative limited local property taxes to 2.5 percent of the assessed property value. For thoses municipalities with a high property-tax rate, the annual rate of decline could not exceed 15 percent and therefore tax revenue in some municipalities will continue to decrease until 1985.

Number of Positions Declined

In the first two years of Proposition 2, according to the report, the number of teaching and nonteaching positions in the state's public schools declined 14.3 percent. There were 119,464 such positions in 1980-1981 and 102,326 in 1981-1982.

Of the 65,815 teachers employed in the state in 1980, the state education department said, 58,033 were retained in 1981, a loss of more than 7,700. Music (21.2 percent), reading (22.2 percent) and art (20.5 percent) were the program areas most affected by the staffing reductions, according to the report.

It noted that student enrollment state-wide slipped below the one-million mark during the years examined, for the first time in 16 years. The number of students in kindergarten through the 12th grade declined about 4 percent from 1,034,221 in 1979 to about 994,613 in 1980.

Student participation in the school-lunch program was also affected because of reductions in state and local funds. In 1980, more than 540,000 students received subsidized lunches; in 1981, the number had declined by more than 130,000 students.

The impact of Proposition 2 would have been greater if school officials had not moved to offset costs through increases in fees and tickets to athletic events, Mr. Zoulas said. According to the report, school systems collected 23 percent more in such fees for extracurricular activities in 1981 than in 1980.

To increase revenue for local education programs, the state board submitted legislation last year that would increase the amount of state aid to local districts from 30 percent to 50 percent, according to Mr. Zoulas. He said the proposed legislation will be debated this year. "[The report] will be evidence to show that the schools took the brunt of the cuts and not the municipalities," Mr. Zoulas said.

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