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Tax-Rollback Plan Would Cripple Michigan Schools, Group Charges

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Detroit--A tax-rollback plan in Michigan would cripple the state's education system and short-circuit efforts to meet national calls for excellence in education, a group of leading educators is warning in a series of press conferences throughout the state this month.

The plan, called Proposal C, would roll back all state and many local property taxes to their December 1981 levels and require voter approval of all future increases. The only exception would be local taxes that have already been approved by voters. If approved, the provisions would take effect 90 days after the Nov. 6 election.

The education leaders--who include school-board members, superintendents, and teachers' union officials--are warning that Proposal C would reduce funding for the state's elementary and secondary schools by about $435 million.

State aid would be reduced by about $150 million and $285 million would be lost through lower local property taxes, according to an estimate given by Phillip E. Runkel, state superintendent of public instruction and one of the members of the group.

The plan would reduce aid to the state's public universities and community colleges by $96 million, forcing tuition up by 19 percent at the universities and 17.5 percent at community colleges, the officials estimate.

And Proposal C would reduce all state and non-voted local property taxes to their December 1981 levels within 90 days of its adoption, unless voters had approved those higher taxes in previous special elections.

'Hit Education Hardest'

"Proposal C would hit education the hardest," Mr. Runkel said. "We need to keep our comeback alive in terms of Michigan education. Local districts are just starting to replace programs. Most are moving to a six-hour day. We've instituted a program for the gifted and talented and a number of other initiatives to enrich education in Michigan."

Larry Chunovich, president of the Michigan Education Association, estimated that 12,000 teachers' jobs would be lost if the tax measure passes, inevitably resulting in larger class sizes. He said he agreed with the proponents of Proposal C, who have called it a simple measure. ''Not only is it simple, it's simple-minded," Mr. Chunovich said.

'Not Talking Frills'

Detroit Schools Superintendent Arthur Jefferson estimated the proposal would slash $6 million in property taxes from the district. Mr. Jefferson said he did not know where school officials would cut programs if voters approved the measure.

"I can't think of any aspect of our program that would not be touched," he said. "We're not talking frills, we're talking science, math, the basic substance of our education program. ... The children of our school district need a lot more than they're getting now."

The Detroit district already faces a $43.1-million deficit, and there is a proposal on the November ballot asking Detroit voters to approve a tax increase to erase the deficit and improve other education programs, including library services, textbooks, school security, and transportation.

'Scare the Voters'

The proposal is not without its supporters. Richard Chrysler, a Brighton, Mich., businessman and a proponent of Proposal C, disagrees that the plan will take money away from schools.

"I think they just come up with those numbers to scare the voters," he said. Advocates of Proposal C believe the state legislature has its "spending priorities mixed up," he added. Instead of spending more on education, the legislature has been putting more into "give-away programs" and higher administrative costs, he said.

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