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State Journal: Split decision; Political questions?

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For more than 15 years--and for reasons that politicians have long since forgotten--the state's education-budget pie has been sliced with uncommon precision. Exactly two-thirds of the funds have been served up to precollegiate education, and the remaining third to the state's colleges and universities.

Last month, however, the House broke from the established practice and approved a fiscal 1990 budget that would have provided public schools with 66.9 percent of the available funds.

When the Senate finance and taxation committee took up the measure a few days later, university officials packed the meeting room to argue for the three-tenths of a percent that they felt was their right under the so-called "traditional split."

Earl Gates, assistant to the state education department's director of legislative relations and research, said the Senate panel moved to placate the higher-education community last week by passing a $2.43-billion education budget that restored the two-thirds, one-third split.

The committee, however, achieved that goal by taking $7.6 million out of a special reserve account that is supposed to be used only when declining revenues would otherwise force a cut in education spending. Mr. Gates said the panel's bill would leave only about $8 million in the account.

The full Senate is scheduled to vote on the budget measure this week. If it is approved, it would have to be passed again by the House.

North Carolina's school chief has sent a memo to local superintendents criticizing a drug survey that the lieutenant governor is mailing to teachers statewide.

In a two-page letter, Superintendent Bobby E. Etheridge contends that many of the questions in Lieut. Gov. James C. Gardner's survey are "politically motivated." Mr. Etheridge is a Democrat and Mr. Gardner is a Republican.

Also in his letter, the state chief argues that the survey does not represent "a constructive solution" to North Carolina's drug problem, and "is another example of needless paperwork that gets dumped into the laps of teachers without regard to the consequence."

In an interview with a local newspaper, Mr. Gardner retorted that the superintendent "is more politically motivated than he is motivated to have better education in the state and a better drug program."

"I think the superintendents will tell the principals, who in turn will tell the teachers not to send the survey back in," he predicted.--tm

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