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A special legislative panel in West Virginia has recommended that the state freeze or reduce the number of classroom teachers and other school employees, while increasing pay for those who remain.

In a January report, the legislature's Select Committee on Quality Education points out that total school employment in the state has increased by more than 5,000 over the past six years. During that same period, it notes, student enrollment has declined by nearly 70,000.

Although these trends have improved student-teacher ratios, State Senator Keith Burdette argued, they have also made it more difficult for the state to offer competitive salaries.

Mr. Burdette, a Democrat, was co-chairman of the select committee and serves as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. School-employment trends, he said, have left the state with an educational system that is "badly out of balance."

"The growth of the system needs to stop until such time as we can become more competitive for pay," he said. West Virginia ranks 44th among the states in average teacher salary.

Mr. Burdette attributed the problem to a defect in the state's school-aid formula, saying it provides excessive funding for gifted-and-talented and special-education students.

While the number of students in such programs has increased modestly, he said, the number of staff members has expanded dramatically, because the funding formula counts each student as equivalent to three students enrolled in regular classes. And there is no ceiling on funding increases, he added.

"In the long term, we are punishing the average student," Mr. Burdette said. "He is not getting what he needs."

The committee's report also recommends that the legislature form a new panel that would seek to eliminate red tape by conducting a complete review of all regulations issued by the state board of education.

"Our classroom teachers are spending more and more time shuffling papers and less and less time teaching students," Mr. Burdette said.

A spokesman for the state board declined to comment on the report, saying board members had yet to receive copies of it.--wm

Arizona's secretary of state officially notified Gov. Evan Mecham last week that enough voters have signed petitions to force a recall election this spring.

The embattled Republican Governor was given until Jan. 31 to decide whether to resign or to run in the new election, which is expected to be held May 17. As of late last week, spokesmen for Mr. Mecham said he had no intention of stepping down.

If an election is held, the Governor is expected to be challenged by Carolyn Warner, a Democrat and former state schools chief whom Mr. Mecham narrowly defeated two years ago, and John Rhodes, the former Republican leader of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Mr. Mecham also faces a trial this March and possible impeachment on charges that he illegally concealed a campaign loan in 1986.

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