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Gov. Weld's Bailout of Chelsea Fails to Avert Threat of Layoffs

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The Massachusetts state government last week bailed out the city of Chelsea's financially strapped government and schools, whose teachers and administrators had gone unpaid for a week.

The episode, observers say, further endangers the partnership between the school system and Boston University, which took over the management of the troubled district two years ago.

Anticipating severe cuts in the budget l year, Boston University planned to mail pink slips to all of the district's 280 teachers last week in compliance with the deadline for notification in the teachers' union contract. (See Education Week, May 22, 1991.)

Under current projections, the university expects to cut a minimum of 105 teachers, although as many as 50 or 60 more may also go if the state ends its Equal Educational Opportunity grants, according to university officials.

"I have no idea how they would run any kind of program by laying off half" the teachers, said Paul L. Devlin, president of the Massachusetts Federation of Teachers. The state union had filed a lawsuit on behalf of Chelsea teachers, protesting the garnishment of wages.

Despite the withholding of their checks, teachers continued to work.

Teachers' and administrators' checks, due for distribution on June 7, were withheld when city officials said they had no money to cover them.

On June 11, Gov. William Weld's administration released $960,000 from a special "distressed cities" fund that was to be used to meet municipal and school payrolls. Teachers were scheduled to receive their back pay on June 14.

The money, however, offers only temporary relief to the city.

Another payday looms for teachers on June 21--before the end of the fiscal year--and officials are uncertain if there will be any funds available.

Alix de Seife, a spokesman for the Governor, said one possibility under consideration by state lawmakers is advancing Chelsea some of its fiscal 1992 local aid.

Even that, however, would be insufficient to meet the financial needs of the city, which relies on state aid to pay for two-thirds of its expenses.

Although the legislature reportedly is still weeks away from submitting a budget, the Governor has recommended cutting $324 million from local aid next year.

Boston University, which has a 10-year contract to operate the schools, has indicated its disappointment with both the city and the state for failing to provide adequate funding for the schools.

Meanwhile, the university's own fundraising efforts have not been as successful as had been anticipated.--k.d.

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