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State Journal: Consolidation 'civil war'; Teachers and lawmakers

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While Gov. Tommy G. Thompson shakes up education politics in Wisconsin with his proposal to cap the size of school districts at 25,000 students, the state education chief in neighboring Minnesota has caused a stir by calling for the mandatory consolidation of small, rural districts.

Commissioner of Education Gene Mammenga recently proposed that a 1,300-student minimum for all districts be set by 1994. Districts with fewer students would be required to merge.

As a result, an estimated 185, or about 40 percent, of the state's current 432 districts would lose their independent existence.

Mr. Mammenga said the need for consolidation of tiny districts was so important, both in terms of efficiency and educational quality, that the state could no longer rely on its current policy of using financial incentives to urge districts to merge.

Without a deadline and mandate from the legislature, he argued, the districts will continue to resist consolidation.

"If you say to them, 'Go out there and plan for a while,' and don't have a date for it, you could plan into the 21st century, and it'll never happen," he was quoted as saying.

The commissioner said he would have liked to propose a 2,600-student floor, which would cut the number of districts to about 150, but recognized that that would be politically impossible.

Even the less drastic proposal, however, quickly drew strong opposition from legislators representing rural areas. One lawmaker said trying to do away with the small districts, which frequently inspire fierce loyalties in their communities, would take a "civil war."

New Mexico's attorney general has abandoned efforts to prevent public-school teachers from serving in the legislature.

The attorney general's office has argued in court since 1988 that teachers were employees of the state, and thus ineligible to be lawmakers.

The state courts have consistently ruled otherwise, however, and the current attorney general announced recently that he would not contest an appellate court's decision in favor of teacher-legislators.

In Oklahoma, meanwhile, a Republican senator wants to link the salaries of the two professions.

A constitutional amendment proposed by Senator Don Rubottom would set the pay of members of the legislature at the prevailing statewide average salary for teachers--currently $26,000, compared with the $32,000 now earned by lawmakers.--hd

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