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School Arsonists Are Targeted A California insurance company has launched a statewide program offering rewards of up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of school arsonists.

Officials of the Industrial Indemnity Company, which insures about 70 percent of the state's schools, say they hope the program, said to be the first of its kind, will curb the growing number of school fires thought to be caused by arson.

In 1987 alone, according to state fire officials, arsonists set 564 fires in California schools. Another 465 school fires were listed as suspicious.

According to a spokesman for the insurance company, schools in the San Francisco Bay area have been the most damaged by fire. In the past 18 months, an estimated $13 to $15 million in damages have been reported by schools insured by Industrial Indemnity in that area.

There have been no injuries in the fires so far, the spokesman said, but only about 1 percent of the crimes have been solved.

The program--unveiled at the site of an arson fire that caused $1.2 million in damage at Los Lomas High School in Walnut Creek--was initiated in cooperation with WETIP, a statewide crime-fighting group that relays anonymous information to the police. Miriam G. Brownell, co-founder of WETIP, said 48 percent of the arson tips the group receives involve juvenile fire setters.


Vermont Officials Seeking Credit For Prior Asbestos Inspections

Health officials in Vermont are trying to convince both the Environmental Protection Agency and a private consulting firm that asbestos inspections conducted by the firm last year in nearly all of the state's school buildings should count towards compliance with the new federal asbestos law.

Vermont officials say the 500 inspections conducted by Hall-Kimbrell Environmental Service, Inc., between last spring and December were in anticipation of the new law and cost the state about $450,000. Their concern is that the timing of the inspections--before the law officially took effect in December--might produce a technical roadblock to counting the work towards fulfillment of the statute's legal requirements.

The federal law requires all schools to inspect for the potentially hazardous material using certified inspectors and to submit management plans to state authorities by October. But in order to receive credit for prior inspections, the schools must have their inspection data reviewed by EPA-certified inspectors. States can also apply for a waiver from all or part of the regulation if they adopt a program that is at least as stringent as the EPA program.

Health officials say they are negotiating with the firm to grant credit to all the schools they inspected and will apply to the EPA for a statewide waiver.


Drop in Petroleum Prices Seen Fueling Decline in School Funds

A report by a New Mexico trade group indicates that depressed oil and natural-gas prices cost the state's schools and universities more than $139 million in public funds derived from those industries in fiscal 1987.

The report, by the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, says the oil and gas revenues set aside for public education declined from $543.4 million in fiscal 1986 to $404 million the following fiscal year.

"That's about the first decrease we can find in a number of years,'' said Maurice Trimmer, the trade group's deputy director.

The state's petroleum industry contributes to the cost of public education through a combination of state-imposed taxes, royalties, and rental fees on state trust lands. Revenue from those sources declined steadily as the price of oil decreased from $34.29 per barrel in 1981 to $14.92 per barrel in 1986. Natural-gas prices fell from $2.77 per thousand cubic feet in 1984 to $1.69 in 1987.

Mr. Trimmer said New Mexico legislators replaced most of the lost revenue over the last two years by increasing personal and corporate income taxes and imposing other fees.


Mississippi Board Votes To Credit Remedial Work Required for Exam

The Mississippi Board of Education will allow high-school students who fail the state's mandated functional-literacy examination to earn class credit by taking remedial courses that cover skills taught in elementary and junior high school.

The board last month voted to allow Mississippi's 152 school districts to offer up to a half-credit for each of three new remedial courses in reading, mathematics, and writing for high-school juniors who fail the exam, said Andy Mullins, a board spokesman.

Mississippi's 30,000 juniors took the literacy exam, which tests their ability to perform such basic tasks as balancing a checkbook, in mid-April. They must pass it to graduate with the class of 1989.

Supporters of the proposal argued that giving class credit for remedial work would encourage students to stay in school long enough to pass the literacy exam and earn their diplomas.

But other board members said the measure would reward students for failure.

Students will receive no remedial credit if they fail the exam a second time.

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