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Two New School-Reform Measures Are Floated in Mass.

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The co-chairmen of the joint education committee in the Massachusetts legislature have moved to lay the groundwork for a comprehensive school-reform bill next year by releasing separate draft proposals.

Rep. Mark Roosevelt and Sen. Thomas F. Birmingham released their plans last month.

The proposals differ on some key points, notably teachers' job rights and taxes. If those issues can be resolved by the sponsors, however, observers say a compromise plan would stand a good chance of passage in the 1993 session.

The Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, a key player in the reform movement in the state, worked with Mr. Roosevelt on his draft.

A third proposal, backed by Gov. William F. Weld, is still alive technically. But aides to key legislators say it has little chance to progress.

Governor Weld introduced his bill this summer after the breakdown of months of negotiations with lawmakers and reform advocates seeking a consensus plan. (See Education Week, June 10, 1992.)

Meanwhile, the state board of education last week weighed in on the various reform measures.

The board set "cornerstones'' for reform that are expected to be adopted next month after public comment.

All of the reform bills will be judged against the cornerstones, which include equity and financial support, goals and standards for students and educators, governance, and assessment and accountability.

Striking Differences

Although the drafts issued by Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Birmingham are similar in many respects, they also contain some striking differences.

The two bills would eliminate tenure and permit the firing of incompetent teachers. But while Mr. Roosevelt's plan would invest dismissal review with superintendents, Mr. Birmingham's proposal calls for the creation of an impartial arbitration system for teacher appeals.

The other major disparity between the two bills is in funding.

In a "tax swap,'' Mr. Birmingham's bill would raise the sales tax by 1 cent while lowering local property taxes.

Mr. Roosevelt's proposal, on the other hand, would modify Proposition 2, the statewide initiative that caps local spending.

Unlike a previous proposal made by the Democratic lawmakers, which would have allowed the cap to rise in line with inflation, Mr. Roosevelt's new plan would require an increase in the cap only in communities that do not meet specified school-funding minimums.

Currently, there are about 140 such communities, with varying degrees of prosperity, said Tripp Jones, Mr. Roosevelt's staff director.

For example, Hopkinton and Holliston are two upper-middle-income communities with similar property values. But Holliston spends at about twice the rate on education as does Hopkinton, according to Mr. Jones.

The funding formula must be made more equitable if lawmakers are to be persuaded to add new funding to education over the next few years in exchange for reform, Mr. Jones said.

"The last thing we want to do is punish communities for doing a better local spending job on their schools,'' he said.

'Getting Closer'

Governor Weld has long vowed not to raise taxes. But he has refrained from commenting publicly on either plan.

"Over all, we're getting closer,'' said John Rennie, the chairman of the M.B.A.E.

Although the business alliance is backing Mr. Roosevelt's bill, Mr. Rennie said he could support a major portion of both bills. He added, however, that the Governor was unlikely to agree to a hike in the sales tax.

"If we can give the Governor a decent plan--I mean nothing in it that he would choke on--I think he will sign it,'' Mr. Rennie added.

Although the Massachusetts Teachers Association still has problems with the proposals, its president, Robert J. Murphy, noted one major improvement.

"Last year they tried to work behind closed doors,'' Mr. Murphy said. "Now at least everybody knows where each of the parties stands.''

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