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Sundlun Seeks 18.5 Percent Reduction in Rhode Island Aid to Schools

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Pressed by a weak economy and a credit-union crisis, Gov. Bruce Sundlun of Rhode Island last week called for an 18.5 percent cut in state aid to public schools in fiscal 1992.

To help soften the financial hard0 ship that the $55-million cutback would bring, the Governor recom0 mended that state education mandates be waived for a year.

Educators and local officials expressed dismay at the severity of the proposed aid reductions.

"We were anticipating cuts in education aid, but we weren't expecting the breadth and magnitude of cuts that were introduced," said Daniel Beardsley, executive director of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns.

"This is undoubtedly going to Lequate into property-tax increases in every city and town," he said.

The proposed budget represents a setback to a five-year-old revision in the school-funding formula aimed at shifting the primary source of school revenues from property taxes to state aid. The formula, which had reached a balance between local and state funding this year, was to achieve its goal of a 60 percent share for state aid next year.

The proposed education budget falls 28.5 percent below the level needed to provide a 50-50 funding split, according to Harvey B. Press, president of the National Education Association Rhode Island. "Those cuts will be devastating," he said.

Notified earlier in the year by Commissioner of Education J. Troy Earhart to expect a potential cut in aid of 10 percent, school districts had already sent out 1,700 layoff notices to teachers statewide, Mr. Press said.

Providence, the largest district in the state, alerted 145 teachers that they may not have jobs next year.

At a time when enrollment in the 0 21,000-student district is expected to rise by about 500, officials will have to cut some $10 million to $12 million from their $123-million budget.

Superintendent Robert F. Roberti said his administration is preparing various retrenchment plans for the Providence school board to examine.

"All the new initiatives we have instituted over the past few years ... will be under review," he said.

Governor Sundlun also suggested in his proposal that major savings could be realized by the reorganization of school districts--a possibility that arose last month when the state took over the financially drained Central Falls district. (See Educa tion Week, April 3, 1991.)

Mr. Press said he has not seen any concrete plans on how reorganiza tion would be implemented or how much it would save. Moreover, he said, such a realignment could not be accomplished by next fiscal year.

"One thing that really appalls me is nobody is talking about the improve ment of education for kids," he said. "The only thing they're [talking about] is how to save money."--kd

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