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Mass. Board Endorses Aspects of 3 Competing Reform Plans

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The Massachusetts state board of education last week moved to break the state's continuing impasse over school-reform proposals by endorsing elements of three competing measures.

"The need for reform of public education is too important to founder on the rivalry of separate bills,'' said Martin S. Kaplan, the board chairman. "The board of education believes the situation is critical and needs immediate action.''

The board decided to act after policymakers appeared to be no closer, and perhaps further apart, on agreeing to a comprehensive reform package after more than a year of negotiations. (See Education Week, Nov. 4, 1992.)

The board last month established "cornerstones'' against which to judge the three bills, which have been proposed by Gov. William F. Weld, Sen. Thomas F. Birmingham, and Rep. Mark Roosevelt. The lawmakers are co-chairmen of the legislature's joint education committee.

During the past month, the board's executive committee, which includes Commissioner of Education Robert V. Antonucci and Secretary of Education Piedad F. Robertson, a Weld appointee, drafted a report concluding that "each bill, taken as a whole, satisfies the ... cornerstones.''

Even so, the report specifies the preferred provisions within each bill, and, in a few instances, makes its own recommendations in lieu of any of the other approaches.

Funding, Personnel Differences

While all of the bills incorporate many of the same elements, they differ on funding and personnel issues.

Each bill calls for the creation of a foundation budget, which would provide a guaranteed per-pupil funding level for all districts. But the proposals disagree over the level of and mechanism for funding.

Senator Birmingham's plan calls for swapping a reduction in property taxes for an increase in the sales tax, while Representative Roosevelt favors modifying Proposition 2 1/2, a cap on property-tax spending. Governor Weld has ruled out either increasing taxes or changing Proposition 2 1/2, however.

The board supported the concept of a foundation budget, but left it to the legislature to decide how and to what extent it should be funded.

In an interview, Mr. Kaplan said, however, that the tax cap has had a devastating impact on education.

"If it remains in effect for another five years,'' he warned, "there will be a real question of the viability of local services, including education.''

The board also endorsed earmarking state aid for professional development, school maintenance, and the purchase of new supplies.

The board would require a maintenance of effort from communities--a provision that is contained in both the Birmingham and Weld proposals.

The three bills diverge significantly on tenure and seniority for teachers, with Mr. Weld essentially calling for their elimination, Mr. Birmingham offering the most job protections, and Mr. Roosevelt falling in between the two.

The state board combined elements of all three plans and added its own provisions. Under the board's proposal, teachers would retain tenure, but standards of performance and behavior would be spelled out.

Seniority would count as one factor in reductions in force, reassignments, and promotions.

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