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Bipartisan Panel Urges Revised School-Finance Plan for Maine

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A special bipartisan committee of the Maine legislature has devised a plan to increase state aid to education by $15.6 million--and to avoid the political obstacles that other finance-reform measures in the state have met in recent years.

Ray A. Cook, the director of management information for the Department of Educational and Cul-tural Services, said the proposal was a "menu" for adjusting appropriations in nonbudget years. Maine's budget is set every two years and updated in off years.

Past Attempts Failed

Past attempts to address a shrinkage in the state's share of education costs have failed because they would have resulted in a loss of aid for some of the wealthier districts, said Rep-resentative Neil Rolde, Democrat of York.

The plan developed by a special subcommittee of the Joint Select Committee on Education Finance would:

Link second-year appropriations for categorical programs--such as special education, vocational education, and transportation--to inflation, at a cost of $3.7 million.

Increase the amount of basic state support to districts by $10.9 million by adjusting the formula for establishing the per-pupil expenditure.

Establish in a formula that the state's "leeway" program provide 40-percent matching funds to local governments, at a cost of $1.1 million. Leeway funds are used for expenses not covered by the basic-aid grants.

Matching-Grant Goal

Forty percent is already the matching-grant goal, officials said, but the actual level will be around 32 percent next year without the reform because of inflation and a lid on the amount of leeway money available to districts.

Although the proposal has a slight "redistributive" effect, officials said, it would not antagonize legislators from wealthy districts by reducing their state aid.

Under the proposal, Mr. Rolde said, one district would lose about $250 in aid. "Besides that, this proposal doesn't hurt anybody," Mr. Rolde said. "We've offered to pass the hat for that money."

Gov. Joseph E. Brennan has not indicated whether he will support the proposal, which has been endorsed by the Maine School Management Association and the Maine Education Association.

Mr. Rolde and other officials said the proposal will probably face a tough fight in the legislature because of the expense that would be added to the state's $235-million education budget.

They added that the plan was divided into three parts so it would have a better chance of being at least partly approved.

"There is support for the concept," said Lars H. Rydell, the legislative assistant to the joint committee. "Whether the legislature will be able to find the extra $15 million--I wouldn't bet on it."

'We Are Strapped'

Added Mr. Rolde: "Like every other state government, particularly with the cuts by the Administration in Washington, we are strapped. If we could get one or two parts [of the reform passed], it would be good."

The education department has also devised a finance-reform package, but the measure does not enjoy support as broad as that of the joint committee.

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