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Small Neb. Districts Wary of Bill To Limit Administrators

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An effort by some Nebraska lawmakers to limit the number of full-time administrators in small school systems has stirred strong opposition from educators who fear it will force consolidation of many of the state's hundreds of rural districts.

Supporters say the proposal, an amendment to an omnibus education bill that has been approved on first reading in the state's unicameral legislature, would make schools more efficient.

But opponents of the measure, which would have to be approved two more times by legislators before it could become law, maintain it would impose so much administrative hardship on small districts that some would not survive.

"We see this as another attempt to consolidate schools, " said Frederick Hoke, executive director of the Nebraska Council of School Administrators.

But the sponsor of the amendment, Senator Dan Lynch, denies that goal. "This would not force consolidation," he said. "We are talking about administration."

Under the proposal, districts that enroll fewer than 200 students would not be allowed to have a full4time administrator. They could, however, have an employee who would serve as an administrator on a part-time basis proportionate to the number of students.

A district with 100 students, for example, would be allowed to hire a half-time administrator, while a system with 150 students couldhave an educator who spent three-quarters of his or her time on administrative duties. The part-time administrators could still be full-time employees, so long as they had other duties, such as teaching or coaching.

Districts with more than 200 students would still be allowed to hire as many administrators as they wanted.

Striking a Nerve

Mr. Lynch's proposal, which was approved without much debate--but by only a one-vote margin--late last month, has struck a nerve in mostly rural Nebraska. The state maintains 813 school districts, and state officials estimate that more than 600 of them have fewer than 200 students.

The vast majority of the small districts operate elementary schools only and do not employ full-time administrators. But educators said that the more than 70 small systems that are K-12 or have only high schools could find the rule a burden.

"I think our legislators are a little confused about the definition of an administrator," said Duane Stehlik, superintendent of the 136-pupil Table Rock-Steinauer district, which serves children in grades K-12.

"In a larger school, you have assistant principals and the like," he said. "In a small school, there is the same amount of paperwork."

Since the amendment's initial approval, officials of both large and small districts have come out against the proposal. As a result, observers said, the legislature is likely to strike the amendment or delay its implementation by a year when it reviews the omnibus bill during its second reading this week.

If legislators decide on a delay, observers added, they may also order a study of measures to make schools more efficient.

But Mr. Lynch said he would oppose a delay, on the grounds that educators and the legislature have known for years that the school system is inefficient.

"Why the hell should we wait for another year?" he asked.

'A Bundle of Money'

Mr. Lynch, who said he "pulled a number out of the air" when he decided that 200 pupils should be the cutoff figure, said that state schools waste millions of dollars a year on administration.

"We spend a bundle of money and no one wants to address that," he said. "I'm not picking on anyone who is small."

School-board members, in contrast, favor delaying or striking the proposal. "If a school board is legally eligible to exist, then they should have the right to determine how many administrators they need," said Dale Siefkes, executive director of the Nebraska Association of School Boards.

The legislature also is scheduled next week to debate a proposal to require high schools with fewer than 35 students to enter into cooperative-learning arrangements with neighboring schools.

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