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Milwaukee Plan Calls for New School-Funding Formula

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The Milwaukee school system would more evenly distribute its resources among schools, and less evenly distribute its black teachers, under a broad plan for change in the coming school year proposed by Superintendent of Schools Howard L. Fuller.

Mr. Fuller called for a new school-funding formula, a decentralization of district decisionmaking, and a freeze on employee salaries as part of a budget plan for the coming fiscal year presented last month to the city school board.

The superintendent also sought more flexibility in the assignment of black teachers, who currently are distributed fairly evenly among schools regardless of their racial makeup.

"I am asking each employee to accept a voluntary freeze in pay and to work with me for real change for at least one year before asking for a pay increase,'' Mr. Fuller said in delivering his budget plan.

As part of his proposal, Mr. Fuller called for a $62,849 reduction in the district's property-tax levy, dropping the tax rate from $18.17 per $1,000 of assessed value to $17.32 per $1,000.

The district's actual expenditures would increase to about $659 million, up about $27 million or 4.3 percent from the current year, due primarily to an increase in state aid.

Most of the funding increase would pay for higher health-care costs, salary increases that are built into salary ranges, and increased debt-service costs as a result of the district's leasing of school sites.

Mr. Fuller also proposed spending to provide staff development, improve school security, and increase the capacity of alternative programs.

Salary Freeze a 'Smokescreen'?

The budget calls for the district to phase in, over three years, significant changes in its funding formula designed to ensure that money is allocated more equitably among schools.

The district's current funding practices, Mr. Fuller said, "have produced financial winners and losers among our schools,'' with spending differences between them of more than $1,500 annually per child.

The proposed budget would base the funding of each school on the number of students enrolled and the number of classroom teachers needed to serve them; some resources would be transferred from middle and high schools to elementary schools to accommodate enrollment changes.

Mr. Fuller also proposed shifting school budgeting decisions from the central administration to principals, while streamlining the district's central administration and making it more functional and service-oriented.

Donald F. Ernest, the executive director of the 9,000-member Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association, said in an interview last week that the union would fight the superintendent's budget with leaflets, rallies, and radio ads.

Although Mr. Ernest objected to the budget's proposed salary freeze, he termed it just a "smokescreen'' to draw debate away from other proposals that will "have a serious impact on education in Milwaukee'' and "destroy programs in the schools.''

If Mr. Fuller succeeds in giving principals more control over their schools' budgets, the principals most likely "are going to cut supplies, staff development, and teaching personnel'' to fund other administrative positions "to make their lives easier,'' Mr. Ernest asserted.

Assignment of Black Teachers

The proposal to alter the distribution of the district's black teachers has also proved controversial.

In its negotiations with the teachers' union over a new contract, the district has proposed eliminating clauses in the current contract dealing with the percentage of black teachers that can be assigned to each school.

Currently, 18 percent of the teachers in the city are black. Under the existing contract, which incorporates language from a court desegregation order that expired in 1984, the faculty of each school should be 18 percent to 23 percent black, and in no case less than 8 percent or more than 28 percent black.

African-American students are much less evenly distributed, however, with the enrollments of some high schools being as much as 98 percent and as little as 23 percent black.

The district plans to remain "within constitutional constraints,'' but wants more flexibility in assigning teachers for various reasons, such as a desire to provide black students with more black role models, according to Michael J. Spector, the chief negotiator for the school board in its talks with the teachers' union.

Mr. Ernest contended, however, that such a change would result in black teachers' being concentrated in the central part of the city. If the district wants to provide more black role models, he said, it should do so by hiring more black teachers for its students, about half of whom are black.

Some local civil-rights leaders last week were taking a wait-and-see approach to the teacher-assignment proposal. Restrictions on black-teacher assignment, they noted, have interfered with efforts to establish special programs for black students.

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