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High-School-Degree Rule Is Set For School Boards in Tennessee

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Tennessee school-board members who have not completed high school or an equivalency program will have to return to the classroom or forfeit their posts, under a bill signed into law by Gov. Ned R. McWherter.

Officials of the National School Boards Association said last week they knew of only one other state--Kentucky--that had adopted a minimum-education requirement for membership on local boards. Kentucky passed its law in 1986.

The Tennessee bill was prompted, in part, by complaints from teachers that some board members who are not high-school graduates "really don't believe in formal education," said Senator Ray C. Albright, the Chattanooga Republican who chairs the chamber's education committee.

Proponents also argued that it was important for board members to set a positive example for potential dropouts. The measure's opponents, however, said the bill was unfair to board members because other local officeholders do not have to meet a similar requirement.

The measure won final approval only after the adoption of amendments that exempted a handful of county boards from the new rule and allowed board members without diplomas to seek one additional term. A provision that would have required board candidates to have college degrees beginning in the year 2000 was also deleted in the amending process.

Daniel J. Tollett, executive director of the Tennessee School Boards Association, said his organization did not oppose the bill because it will affect few board members and will serve to silence those who complain that school-board members are undereducated.

The t.s.b.a. fought hard on behalf of another cause that failed, however.

Elected Superintendents

The association's top legislative priority this year was a bill to end the state's practice of electing local superintendents in favor of appointment by local boards. The legislature adjourned late last month without acting on the measure.

Tennessee is one of only six states, all in the Southeast, that require or permit the election of superintendents. Seventy-nine of the state's 139 districts select their superintendents in this manner.

Senator Douglas S. Henry Jr., who sponsored the bill to move to a system of appointment, said it failed to gain a wide base of acceptance in the House.

Mr. Tollett said drumming up popular support for the measure was difficult because many Tennesseans "would like to elect the janitors, the bus drivers, and the cooks, if they could." He said the school-boards group probably will not press the issue in next year's session.

Lawmakers also turned down a plan endorsed by the Tennessee Education Association to raise the state sales tax by one-half cent and earmark a portion of the revenues for teacher pay and basic state school aid.

Cavit C. Cheshier, executive secretary of the t.e.a., said the bill's defeat will increase unrest among teachers. He added that it will increase financial hardship for the state's schools, which he said have some of the most overcrowded classrooms in the country.--ps

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