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Cuomo Seeks Income Tax As School-Finance Relief

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Unveiling a new strategy in his attempt to reform New York State's school-finance system, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo last week proposed that counties be given the option of raising local school funds through income taxes rather than property levies.

The plan, offered in the Governor's State of the State Address, would authorize counties to set local elections to decide which tax to use. Mr. Cuomo has criticized the state's current school-finance formula as one that unfairly handicaps school districts in low-wealth areas.

"No tax is pleasant, but there is another, fairer way to pay for schools,'' the Governor said. "Why not allow school districts to change from real-estate taxes to local income taxes, if they and their constituents choose to?''

Republican lawmakers, who have opposed earlier efforts to revamp the school-funding system, said they were intrigued by Mr. Cuomo's proposal but were unsure of the wisdom of deciding the issue at the county level.

Under the Governor's proposal, which will be forwarded to the legislature this spring but remained sketchy last week, counties opting for the income tax would levy a surcharge as a portion of the state income tax. Those funds would be collected by the state and distributed back to the counties.

"We must correct our school-aid formula,'' Mr. Cuomo said. "To the extent that you can understand it, it is palpably unfair to our middle-class and poor communities.''

The Governor's legislative agenda as outlined in his speech contained few other new programs, due to the state's continuing economic troubles.

Mr. Cuomo's major spending proposal was a five-year, $25 billion public-works program that would create jobs in a wide range of infrastructure improvements, including school construction.

Administrators' Pay Flayed

Mr. Cuomo also took a new approach to another proposal that had previously made little headway with lawmakers by announcing that he would use his executive authority to launch an investigation of the salaries of school administrators.

Pointing to recent news of a superintendent paid $200,000 and a superintendent of a Board of Cooperative Education Services who received a $960,000 "going-away gift,'' the Governor said such abuses are intolerable at a time when state officials are cutting classroom funds.

"This is a travesty,'' Mr. Cuomo said. "I will report to the people every substantial public salary affecting taxpayers in the state, including every one in the entire education system.''

The Governor also endorsed the state's education-reform plan, the "New Compact for Learning,'' which calls for greater deregulation, more parental involvement, and better student assessments. He also embraced an expansion of open-enrollment plans among the state's public schools and called for a system of youth apprenticeships.

"Nowhere do we need more change than in our education system,'' Mr. Cuomo said.


Weicker Seeks New Effort To Counter Racial Isolation

Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. of Connecticut last week urged legislators and local school officials to voluntarily undertake regional desegregation plans before they are ordered to do so by the courts.

Mr. Weicker devoted almost all of his State of the State Address to acknowledging vast racial and economic disparities between schools in the state's cities and suburbs and to proposing legislation to require regions to address the issue.

"The racial and economic isolation in Connecticut school system is indisputable,'' he said.

Regardless of what caused such isolation, Mr. Weicker continued, "what matters is that it is here and that it must be dealt with.''

If the executive and legislative branches and local school boards do not act swiftly, the Governor warned, then courts may be prompted to "run the schools of Connecticut'' and order sweeping changes.

The Governor's speech repeatedly referred to Sheff v. O'Neill, a suit filed in Connecticut Superior Court on behalf of 19 Hartford-area schoolchildren that is expected to be decided this year. (See Education Week, May 6, 1992.)

Civil-rights advocates have argued in the suit that the racial, ethnic, and economic segregation that exists between the schools of Hartford and its suburbs violates the students' right to an adequate education under the state constitution.

Mr. Weicker proposed legislation to require the development by regions of plans to voluntarily end racial isolation.

The state would require plans to be submitted by each of six regions.

The goal of the plans, to be developed with input from parents, educators, and local school officials, would be to insure that, within five years, the enrollment of local school districts in each region would reflect the racial mixture of the region as a whole.

The plans would be submitted to the state board of education for approval by the summer of 1994 and implemented in the fall of 1995, Mr. Weicker said, with the state providing support during the planning process and resources during implementation.

"The regional process,'' he said, "recognizes the differences from area to area of our state, and that there can be multiple approaches to creating opportunity.''

In anticipation of the Governor's speech, the state board of education last month postponed a decision on a limited school-choice plan designed to improve racial balance in the schools. (See Education Week, Dec. 2, 1992.)

Meeting last week after Mr. Weicker's speech, the board revised its plan to give regional leaders more freedom to develop their own approaches to ending racial isolation.

The package of legislative proposals adopted by the board also called for the state to provide more money for interdistrict programs and for the construction of magnet schools designed to promote racial balance.--P.S.

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