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Colo. School-Finance Bill Awaits Action by Romer

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Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado was to decide by late last week whether te sign a compromise school-finance bill or veto it and force another round of legislative deliberation.

The bill, cleared by the legislature on Oct. 23, would provide Colorado's 176 school districts with approximately $101 million less than they were expecting under the terms of the state's 1988 school-finance law.

For the state's largest school system, which would lose a substantial amount of funding as a result of the measure, the judgment on the bill was clear. "We have recommended to the Governor that he not accept this bill," said Velma A. Rose, chief financial officer of the Denver schools. But for most state education groups, and apparently for Mr. Romer himself, the decision was a Hobson's choice--whether to accept the bill, with its funding cuts, or reject it even though there was no reason to believe lawmakers would produce anything any better this year.

"It's a very difficult bill," said the Governor's press secretary, Cindy Parmenter.

The legislature could reconvene in special session this week if the Governor vetoes the school-finance bill, officials said.

In a session that began on Sept. 10, lawmakers considered numerous school-finance and education-reform measures, but declined to adopt any bill that would raise taxes or otherwise provide for increased revenues for education, as most public-school advocates had urged. ('See Education Week, Oct. 16, 1991.)

The compromise school-finance measure, adopted narrowly by both the House and the Senate, calls for the one-time creation of two special nine-month fiscal periods.

The main purpose of the transitional fiscal periods is eventually to align the school budget year with the state fiscal year.

Complex Fiscal Scheme

But lawmakers also sought to use the transitional periods as vehicles for fiscal schemes that would allow the state to eliminate red ink from its budget. The state faces a projected deficit of $284 million in fiscal 2992.

In the first of the two nine-month periods, districts would largely rely on their own property-tax receipts as income, while most state funding would come during the second transitional period.

The bill also provides an effective 1 percent inflation factor for most districts, instead of the 3 percent in earlier bills.

Legislative sponsors of the compromise bill have said that it would cut the expected deficit in school funding from $284 million to $70 million.

But Ms. Rose of Denver argued that the bill is based on flawed data and reasoning.

Lawmakers "are overstating our assessed valuation and understating our enrollment," she contended. "The numbers they are relying on are false."

Ms. Rose added that the bill's inflation factor would leave Denver about $13 million short of past state funding for the 18-month total of the two special fiscal periods.

But many other education supporters in the state are not sure if a veto would prompt the legislature to make any serious improvements to the measure, in what would be only a short veto session this week.

Deborah Fallin, a spokesman for the Colorado Education Association, said education organizations are undecided about whether the Governor should sign or veto the bill.

"Each of those is a bad choice ," she said.

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