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Greater Accountability Urged for Oklahoma's Schools

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Greater accountability and a sharper focus on outcomes are the keystones to improving Oklahoma's schools, a state task force argues in a report released last week.

Among the scores of recommendations in the study are the abolition of tenure, increased incentives for consolidation, lengthening the school year, and raising teacher pay.

To fund the proposals, which the panel estimates will cost $2.7 billion over the next five years, the study suggests expanding the sales tax or increasing several other state taxes.

The panel did not call, however, for fundamental funding changes of the sort earlier put forward by Gov. Henry Bellmon. Mr. Bellmon proposed this summer that a new 1.9 percent "school tax" on the value of all finished goods and services replace property taxes as a source of school revenue.

After overwhelmingly rejecting4Mr. Bellmon's plan, the legislature in August directed the task force to develop a revenue and reform package. (See Education Week, Sept. 6, 1989.)

The 70-page report was issued by Task Force 2000, a 31-member committee of educators, business and government leaders, and members of the public.

The task force will formally present its report to members of the legislature when they meet in special session next week.

Margaret French, a staff aide to the task force, said some lawmakers appeared pleased with the report when they received a preview of it last week.

State Senator Stratton Taylor, chairman of the appropriations committee, said he thinks "the legislature will be receptive" to new taxes if linked to educational improvement.

He said the inclusion of several tax-increase plans in the proposal may help its popularity in the legislature. "I think it's very wise on [the task force's] part," he said. "I like the Chinese-menu approach."

But some of the recommendations in the report, which was still being finalized late last week, are likely to be controversial.

The most lively debate at the panel's closed meetings centered around the issues of tenure and consolidation, according to sources.

The report describes tenure for teachers as "perhaps the most volatile issue facing the task force" and suggests a new policy to replace the current one.

The study proposes expanding the permissible reasons for dismissal to include "repeated negligence in performance of duty, instructional ineffectiveness and unsatisfactory teaching performance." It also says "other matters" may enter into consideration as well.

The report urges the creation of a peer-review panel, based in individual schools, to examine all "recommendations for dismissal."

On the issue of consolidation, the report notes "a broad consensus ... that there are too many school districts in Oklahoma."

But it stops short of advising widespread mandatory consolidation. Instead, it recommends adding some $16 million in financial incentives for consolidation.

The report also suggests that "involuntary consolidation" be considered as a penalty for districts that fail to meet state accreditation standards.

The panel also called on the state to:

Make early-childhood-education programs, such as full-day kindergarten, "reasonably available in each district."

Convene a statewide curriculum committee to propose improvements.

Review all standardized tests currently in use in the state, and identify any particularly helpful ones.

Lengthen the school year to provide more time for staff development.

Create a panel to "investigate" a parental-choice plan for the state.

Raise teachers' salaries at least $1,500 per year in each of the next four years.

Abolish corporal punishment in the schools.

Although the report finds the state's school-finance formula "fully defensible," it does recommend several changes to the system. It suggests that more state funding be distributed according to the equalization formula.

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