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After Talks Fail, Weld Offers Own Education-Reform Plan

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Unable after months of private talks with key lawmakers and the business community to reach an agreement on a compromise education-reform proposal, Gov. William F. Weld of Massachusetts last week broke ranks and submitted his own package to the legislature.

"We believe it would be a great disservice to the children of the Commonwealth to further delay the necessary reforms and a terrible mistake to continue to pour billions of dollars of good money into a system now functioning well below its potential,'' the Governor maintained.

The package calls for controversial changes in such areas as teacher tenure and seniority, collective bargaining, and school governance. Many of the measures apparently were hammered out by the participants in the education talks.

Disagreements over funding ultimately stymied the process, however, and the Governor's plan does not contain either the level of money or the mechanism for funding that legislators and business participants say are crucial to reform.

"The proposal for the foundation budget is inadequate. It makes it very hard for the plan to work,'' said Tripp Jones, a spokesman for Representative Mark Roosevelt, the chairman of the joint education committee.

John C. Rennie, the chairman of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, told The Boston Globe that Mr. Weld's proposal was "illogical and bound to fail.''

At Odds Over Funding

Although Mr. Weld recommended increasing state aid to schools, which have suffered severe financial cutbacks for the past three years, the increase is not as much as legislators and Mr. Rennie had sought.

In return for adoption of his reform proposals, Mr. Weld would support $3.2 billion in additional state funding over the next five years.

In large measure, the money would be used to underwrite a foundation budget for each district. In the first year, it would be based on $5,058 per pupil, increasing to $5,912 by the fifth year.

In addition to requiring communities to maintain their current level of support, the plan calls for establishing a local "standard of effort'' based on ability to pay.

The state would then make up the difference between the community support and the foundation level.

Because the plan preserves the tax limits set by Proposition 2, communities would have to meet their obligations to the schools without increasing property-tax revenue more than 2.5 percent.

Early this spring, all parties to the talks agreed upon a per-pupil figure of $5,661, according to Mr. Rennie. But the administration subsequently lowered the foundation level it was willing to support. (See Education Week, May 13, 1992.)

Although Mr. Jones said the Governor's decision to submit legislation has the benefit of bringing the talks into the public arena, the aide expressed concern that the negotiators' inability to reach consensus could result in a backlash.

"If we don't come out of this process improving the confidence the public has in schools, it would be a shame and could result in long-term damage to our schools,'' he warned.

Teachers, Local Boards Hit

Under the Governor's plan, teacher tenure would be abolished. Seniority would not play "any role whatsoever'' in promotions or transfers, and its role would be diminished in layoffs. Teachers would have to be recertified every five years. (See Education Week, Feb. 5, 1992.)

Some authority would be stripped from local school committees, while superintendents and principals--who would no longer be permitted to join unions--would be vested with considerably more authority.

Superintendents and principals would assume the school committees' control over hiring and firing. And principals would replace the committees in charge of expelling students for weapon and drug possession and violent behavior.

City officials, rather than school committees, would sign collective-bargaining pacts.

Teachers and parents would be part of local school-governance councils, but their role would be to help the principal develop and carry out "the shared vision of the school which will be set forth by the principal.''

The plan also calls for a core curriculum, biannual student assessments, and student passage of prescribed competencies in order to graduate.

Moreover, teachers would be required to develop annual academic-success plans for every student.

Educators quickly denounced provisions of the package.

"The Governor's plan is a travesty,'' said Rosanne K. Bacon, the president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. Mr. Weld has "essentially retrenched and put out a bill that is punitive in nature, that specifically targets teachers as the problem, makes absolutely no provision to help us as part of the solution, and at the same time ... is a financial mirage,'' she charged.

Paul H. Gorden, the executive director of the Association of School Committees, said the proposal to shift collective-bargaining approval to city councils "would make a farce of the entire negotiating process.''

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