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Ky. Elects New Schools Chief; Oregon Districts Pass Levies

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Kentucky voters last Tuesday elected two women--both of whom began their careers as schoolteachers--to the posts of governor and state superintendent of public instruction.

Lieut. Gov. Martha Layne Collins, a Democrat, defeated State Senator Jim Bunning, a Republican, in the gubernatorial race.

Ms. Collins, who is completing her first term as Lieutenant Governor, earned the enmity of the Kentucky Education Association by using her tiebreaking vote in the Senate to defeat a collective-bargaining bill that the teachers' group had been promoting for years. The kea, which was strongly allied with the outgoing governor, John Y. Brown Jr., did not endorse either candidate in this year's gubernatorial election.

Although both candidates stressed their support for a strong educational system and Mr. Bunning proposed a state lottery to finance public schools, education was not a major issue in the campaign, according to observers.

In the race for superintendent of public instruction, Alice McDonald, a career educator from the Louisville area who most recently held the position of deputy state superintendent, defeated Kenneth Bland, an administrator in the Rowan County schools, by nearly 2 to 1.

Ms. McDonald, who was supported by the kea, did not take a position on collective-bargaining legislation, saying she believed the superintendent should concentrate on unifying the various school constituencies and leave the controversial bargaining issue to the legislature and local boards.

Upon taking office from Raymond Barber in January, Ms. McDonald will become the nation's eighth woman chief state school officer and the third to be elected, rather than appointed, to office.

Elsewhere on Election Day:

In Oregon, voters effectively reopened the Oaklea Middle School when they approved a levy to support the current district budget. The school, one of the 152 honored last month by U.S. Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell as exemplary, was closed last month for lack of funds. But local voters in the Junction City School District, in which Oaklea is located, approved a $3.45-million property-tax measure, according to Robert E. Jones, research analyst for the Oregon Department of Education.

Five other Oregon districts approved one or more property-tax levies.

Property-Tax Reform

The state has no sales tax, and property taxes are relied on to support schools at a time when state aid has declined, Mr. Jones pointed out. In 1981, the latest year for which statistics are available, the statewide property-tax effort was 30 percent higher than the national average, according to the Advisory Council on Intergovernmental Relations, a federal agency that monitors state and local governments.

The legislature agreed during its special session in September to consider a state sales tax, but it stipulated that the majority of districts must vote to say that they want such a measure on a statewide ballot before any referendum can be held.

Cities and towns have until March to vote on whether the state should hold the referendum.

Concerned by the burden being placed on property taxes, an independent taxpayers group, the Portland-based Oregon Taxpayer's Union, is proposing a property-tax reform similar to California's Proposition 13. If a petition on the proposal gathers enough signatures, it will be on the November 1984 ballot.

In the meantime, a special session of the legislature in September set a millage limitation for school districts. It provides districts with a list of eight ways, based on their tax history, to determine what the maximum ceiling can be. "If a taxing valuation or non-property-tax resources go way down, a district could really be hurt. There are provisions that will keep districts from getting cut off cold," Mr. Jones said.

The law also stipulates that, statewide, assessed property valuation may not increase more than 5 percent per year, Mr. Jones said. "The new law will hold tax rates to current levels. Schools should feel the pinch in five to six years."

In Newton, Mass., an affluent suburb of Boston, residents rejected by a 3-to-2 margin a municipal measure that would have allowed the city to exceed the debt limit set by Proposition 2, according to Robert L. Hughes, vice-president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a private nonprofit government-sponsored research and policy-analysis group that concentrates on fiscal and management issues. The vote was being watched in Massachusetts as a signal of voter willingness to turn away from the fiscal stringency imposed by the 1980 tax-limitation measure.

Proposition 2 places a 2.5-percent limit on total increases in property taxes. The costs to local governments of paying off the principal and interest of bond issues are not excluded from the 2.5-percent limit. The law allows a community to vote to exempt the additional costs that new bond issues would cause.

In Texas, voters passed a proposition that will allow school districts for the first time to guarantee local school-bond issues with the assets of the state's $4-billion permanent school fund.

In St. Louis, voters turned down a $63.5-million bond issue that was called for as part of a federal district judge's order in the region's landmark voluntary school-desegregation settlement.

Although 55.2 percent of the voters approved the measure, under Missouri law, bond and tax issues must be approved by a two-thirds majority of those people voting.

Under the bond issue, funds would have been earmarked for the renovation and maintanence of school buildings in the city school district. Under U.S. District Judge William L. Hungate's order this July in the lawsuit, Liddell v. Board of Education, the funds would have been matched dollar-for-dollar by the state.

Judge Hungate intimated that if St. Louis voters rejected the issue, he would issue orders affecting the city's property tax rate "or would find money from other sources to finance this portion of the plan," said a spokesman for the city school district.--ha, pc, tm & sr

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