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Kentucky Schools Out For Funding Protests

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More than half of Kentucky's school districts cancelled classes March 17, as thousands of teachers and administrators rallied at the state capital to protest Gov. Wallace G. Wilkinson's proposed education budget.

In 92 of the state's 178 districts, school boards voted to amend their calendars to close schools last Thursday so that employees could take part in the demonstration. Many districts had to hold special board meetings to approve the change.

"The original call was for representatives from each district to attend the rally,'' said David Allen, president of the Kentucky Education Association and organizer of the rally.

"I think the fact that many schools closed in order to allow all educators to attend the march shows there is an extreme level of frustration within the entire education community about the budget.''

Mr. Wilkinson has proposed a $114-million spending plan for precollegiate education that would provide teachers with a 2 percent pay raise in the first year of the 1989-90 biennium and a 5 percent raise in its second year, a funding level deemed inadequate by the K.E.A.

His plan would finance school-improvement initiatives he pledged in his election campaign by eliminating or level-funding several 1986 reforms that are strongly supported by the education community. (See Education Week, March 2, 1988.)

Heated Exchange

Protest organizers said last week that the rally was spurred by a heated exchange between the Governor and K.E.A. representatives earlier this month.

According to eyewitnesses and local press reports, the confrontation began when local union presidents filed into Mr. Wilkinson's outer office and presented him with a petition with 47,000 signatures demanding more funding for education.

The group then asked the Governor to meet with Mr. Allen to discuss their concerns. Mr. Wilkinson is said to have responded: "I have no interest whatsoever in talking with David Allen. I have very little regard or respect for David Allen.''

When Margaret Presley, president of the Berea Independent Education Association, told Mr. Wilkinson that Mr. Allen was paid to represent more than 30,000 teachers in the state, the Governor reportedly replied, "In my opinion, you're wasting your money.''

The Governor then accused the K.E.A. leadership of being interested in "self-serving'' goals. One local president asked Mr. Wilkinson if he would become a teacher for $16,000 a year. The Governor reportedly replied, "Not if I could find something better to do.''

"That's why we're carrying signs in the march that read, 'Teaching is something better to do,''' Mr. Allen said. "We really are questioning the commitment of the state leadership to education.''

Mr. Allen said the exchange ended with a "cordial, but defensive'' private meeting between himself and the Governor, after which Mr. Wilkinson apologized for not meeting with the union official sooner. He also said he would look for more money in the budget, but he "realistically'' did not expect to find any.

Group Not Assuaged

The conciliatory words, however, apparently did little to appease the group. Within a week, K.E.A. representatives had garnered the support of nonunion and union teachers, administrators, and school-board members statewide for the protest--an option that the union had only been considering up to that point.

Districts that did not close their doors last week agreed to send delegations of teachers and administrators, Mr. Allen said. Those that did close agreed to add an extra day to their calendar at the end of the school year.

The march and rally occurred the day before the House was expected to vote on a budget measure that would provide no funds for the Governor's education proposals.

The Senate is expected to vote on its own budget measure this week. But even if that chamber agrees to make funds available for the Governor's programs, the chairman of the House education committee says his panel will refuse to authorize the expenditure.

"The mood of the committee is not to take up the Governor's programs,'' said the chairman, Representative Roger Noe. "We find the ideas interesting and exciting, but we aren't going to defund some programs to fund new and untried ones.''

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