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District 'Strike'Set To Protest Pa. Budget Plan

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A Pennsylvania school district plans to shut down for one day next month to protest what its officials say is inadequate state funding for the next fiscal year.

The Leechburg Area School Board voted 7 to 2 on March 21 to close its two elementary schools and one high school on May 4 because Gov. Robert Casey's proposed 1991 budget would reduce the state's share of the district's education budget to its lowest level in 20 years, officials said.

"This is a dramatic way to get attention," said Chuck Pascal, a board member who supports the school "strike" by the district, which is located about 40 miles from Pittsburgh.

Officials believe the state should be providing 50 percent of the funds in local school budgets through its equalization subsidy, Mr. Pascal said. In recent years, that proportion has hovered around the 41 to 42 percent mark. But in the Governor's proposed budget, the state share would drop to 39.7 percent of Leechburg's education budget, he said.

Moreover, the Governor has proposed shifting some program costs from the state to the districts, such as those for special education and remediation programs, Mr. Pascal said.

This will require the district to seek a property-tax increase, he said.

"Our community is made up of working-class people and senior citizens who cannot continue to pay increased property taxes each year," he said.

To make up in advance for the day of the school shutdown, students will be required this month to attend school on a "snow day"--a day that had been set aside as a make-up day for possible time lost because of inclement weather. This year, the date would have been a vacation day.

Voluntary Participation Sought

On May 4, Mr. Pascal said, "we are asking employees and students to voluntarily participate in an informational picket line and rally at school."

"We are asking other districts to do the same thing or something similar," he added.

Janet Elfring, the assistant press secretary in the state education department, said the law does not require the state to provide a minimum percentage of funding to districts through its equalized subsidy for basic education. She noted that there are some 30 other line items in the budget that provide education funding to districts beyond the basic subsidy.

Reduced revenue is the chief reason the state cannot equal its past contributions to local districts next fiscal year, she said.

State officials have questioned the impact of the district's plans to close school for a day.

"If they just trade a holiday for another day, it is hard to see what the real meaning in that is," Ms. Elfring said. "Our primary motive is educating children. It is hard to see that using the students and teachers in what is an essentially political gesture is really responsible to that mandate."

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