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Florio Signs Bill Expanding Monitoring of Districts

Gov. James J. Florio of New Jersey has signed a law creating a new assessment system that he says will beef up the state's ability to monitor school-district management and student performance.

The law, approved last month, was originally described by state officials as intended to make monitoring less burdensome on the state's high-achieving districts, thus allowing the state to concentrate on the troubled ones, most of which stand to receive large aid increases under the embattled finance-reform bill passed by the legislature last summer.

In light of the widespread discontent with the finance-reform law, observers say, the Governor has used the new monitoring law to stress that aid increases will have to produce results.

"We're going to make sure that the taxpayer investment in our schools yields the dividends promised," Mr. Florio said in signing the bill.

Under the new law, which will take effect in the 1992-93 school year, standards will be developed in arts, communications, geography, history, and science, in addition to existing standards in reading, math, and writing. Certification periods for districts will be extended from five to seven years.

Three Florida lawmakers have reintroduced a bill allowing teachers to carry "stun guns" for self defense.

Although a similar school-security bill passed the House and two Senate committees last year with little controversy, this year's bill has already generated heated debate.

The bill would allow elementary- and secondary-school employees who have concealed-weapons permits to carry stun guns--designed to subdue but not to kill--onto school property.

College and university employees already have such privileges.

But Pat L. Tornillo Jr., president of the Florida Education Association/United, has slammed the proposal as a "stunningly bad idea" and vowed to actively oppose the bill.

"There is no question about the need to enhance safety," Mr. Tornillo said. "But such a law would merely contribute to the Dodge City mentality that is sweeping across some school campuses."

The measure carries a mandatory three-year jail term for school employees who misuse the weapons.

Other parts of the bill would increase penalties for students who use weapons or trespass on school property and require that local law-enforcement officials notify schools when students have been arrested.

The South Dakota House has approved a bill removing a controversial "hold harmless" provision from the state's school-aid distribution formula.

By a 49-to-19 vote, the House last month accepted a plan, proposed by the Interim Education Committee, to phase out the hold-harmless provision over three years. The provision has protected each district from suffering a drastic drop in state aid, even if it was due to get less money under the formula. (See Education Week, Dec. 12, 1990.)

"It's a fairness issue," Representative Edwin W. Olson Jr., the chairman of the interim education panel, said in support of the bill.

Opponents say the state's funding formula is flawed, and warn that some districts will be financially threatened if the hold-harmless provision is eliminated.

In another education decision last month, the House voted 47-to-22 to abolish an extra state payment to school districts that run more than two rural schools. The districts now receive $10,000 for each such school they operate beyond the first two.

The California Department of Education and several education groups have filed suit against a law that allows counties to charge school districts for the collection of property taxes.

In a class-action suit against the state's 58 counties filed last month in Sacramento County Superior Court, the educators claim that schools are losing up to $150 million annually as a result of a law enacted last year.

The measure, part of a package of bills intended to close a projected $3.6-billion budget deficit, cut $300 million in state funds to counties but enabled them to recoup some of the money by charging fees to school districts and local jurisdictions for the collection of property taxes.

The plaintiffs, who include the California School Boards Association and several local districts, assert that the fees have reduced funding to school districts below the levels guaranteed by Proposition 98, which assures public education about 40 percent of the general fund.

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