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Officials of the Vermont Department of Education have announced an independent audit of the department following the discovery that between $300,000 and $400,000 in federal funds is missing.

The department has been unable to account for the whereabouts of the money, given to the state by the U.S. Labor Department's employment and training office to finance a variety of job-training programs for youths.

It remains unclear whether the money has been spent or if it is buried somewhere in an obscure account. Embezzlement also remains a possibility, although Richard Mills, the state's commissioner of education, said that was an unlikely explanation.

The issue originally came to Mr. Mills's attention last December, when the state's commissioner of employment and training alerted him to a $10,000 overexpenditure in a summer youth-jobs program.

Mr. Mills then instructed the education department's chief financial officer, Peter Ryan, to investigate the matter. Mr. Ryan found the fiscal discrepancies to be far greater than initially thought.

Mr. Mills said the department was already engaged in a review of its fiscal-management practices in an effort "do everything we can to anticipate the kinds of problems we're going to see spelled out in the audit report'' and begin solving them.

The New York State Board of Regents has adopted regulations mandating the method by which school districts in the state will include parents and teachers in their site-based-management efforts.

The regents voted to require every district in the state to develop and adopt a plan to give parents and teachers a key role in school-based planning and shared decisionmaking.

Under the regulations, districts have until Feb. 1, 1994, to submit a plan to the state education commissioner for approval. Each district must establish a districtwide committee--composed of the superintendent of schools, administrators and teachers selected by their unions, and parents chosen by
other parents--to develop a shared-decisionmaking plan. Once it is approved by the education commissioner, each school will develop a committee to participate in making decisions for the school.

The New York State School Boards Association had opposed the move, saying that nearly all the districts in the state were already developing shared decisionmaking. The state's "cookie cutter'' approach would discourage local control and kill diversity, the group argued.

The board's chancellor, Martin C. Barell, said in a statement that the regulations would "ensure ... participation in ways that are consistent with the authority of local boards of education to make the policy decisions entrusted to them under law.''

School boards in New York State will still be required to include a representative of a religious organization on panels that set AIDS-education policy, according to a ruling late last month by the state's highest court.

The New York State School Boards Association had contended in a lawsuit that the state education department's requirement was unconstitutional because it violated the First Amendment's prohibition against state establishment of religion.

The regulation, which went into effect in 1988, stipulated that school boards must appoint at least one member of the clergy or other member of a religious organization to their AIDS advisory councils.

A spokesman for the school-boards association said the group was considering appealing the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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