News In Brief
A task force appointed by Vermont's governor has called for consolidating the state's 323 school districts into 65 regional units, but observers say the plan faces an uphill battle.
Noting that the current system of overlapping districts "foster[s] confusion and competition in governance," the 11-member panel, which submitted its report to Gov. Madeleine M. Kunin this month, urged the creation of district boards to oversee all elementary and secondary schools in their regions.
Under the plan, which is being de4bated in a series of public hearings that began last week, the new regional boards would assume some functions now carried out at the state level, such as setting school-approval standards and overseeing the professional development of teachers. At the same time, local communities would cede to the new boards the authority to levy school taxes.
That provision has stirred controversy, since Vermont has a strong tradition of local autonomy.
"It's not going to be easy" to implement the proposed reforms, conceded Louis Berney, a spokesman for Governor Kunin. "The issue of local control is almost a sacred cow in Vermont."
As evidence of the political difficulties the Governor faces, a group of Republican legislators has formed a separate task force to study the is8sue of school governance. That panel will consider ways to make the system more efficient without destroying local control, according to State Representative Ruth Stokes, the panel's chairman.
Ms. Stokes said the school-governance issue would be considered by the legislature next year. But because the session will be so short, final action is unlikely before 1989.
A task force appointed by Gov. Edward D. DiPrete of Rhode Island has recommended that the state increase its share of school funding to 60 percent of total costs by the mid-1990's, up from about 42 percent at present.
The 25-member group, which reel10lported to the Governor this month, has also called for reductions in class sizes, primarily in early grades; the establishment of pilot school-site reorganization projects; required half-day kindergarten for all 5-year-olds; and the creation of voluntary pre-kindergarten programs for "at risk" 4-year-olds.
The group was charged with analyzing the National Governors' Association's 1986 report, Time for Results, and determining ways that its recommendations could be applied to the state.
While task-force members agreed that all emphases of the report--such as teacher preparation, technology, and college quality--were important, they decided to focus on four issues "with great potential for high impact on Rhode Island schools."
The panel's chairman was J. Troy Earhart, the state's commissioner of education.
Gov. Neil Goldschmidt of Oregon has made school-finance reform his top priority for the next legislative session, saying the "safety-net" plan approved by voters this year serves only as a stop-gap measure.
Under the safety-net measure, districts are permitted to levy property taxes equal to the amount collected the year before if voters reject tax extensions or increases. Thirty-seven of the state's 304 districts have resorted to such levies so far this year.
The law was designed to keep schools from closing while lawmakers develop a finance system that places less reliance on property taxes as a source of school revenue.