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State Journal: Up a tree; Number crunching

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Some elementary school students from Bath County, Ky., got a vivid lesson about the political process last month when Gov. Brereton C. Jones decided to disappoint them rather than irk legislative leaders.

The confrontation involved the designation of the official state tree. The Bath County children, partial to the current designee, the Kentucky coffee tree, presented a banner to the Governor, who promised to veto any change.

But Mr. Jones spoke too soon. House leaders--with whom the Governor has had contentious relations--were backing a plan to make the tulip poplar the state tree, and he realized that it might not be wise to pick another fight.

So, Mr. Jones crafted a compromise. The tulip poplar will become the state tree. For the Bath County children, the Governor will use Arbor Day to proclaim the coffee tree the state's "history tree,'' and plant one in their honor.

A file-merging error at the Vermont Department of Education has led to embarrassing inaccuracies in state-aid estimates.

In estimating state funding for the next school year, state workers combined two sets of data--one that listed towns in order of their designated numbers, and one that listed them alphabetically.

The department released the estimates--which give districts a rough idea of what their budgets will look like--in February, but the error wasn't noticed until last month.

No money was sent out using the inaccurate estimates, but some districts were inconvenienced when they began making plans based on them. In the biggest single error, the Hartford district was told it would receive $500,000 more than it actually will get.

Most districts were not severely affected, but some observers said that the blunder raises credibility questions.

"It's embarrassing when you have an error like this,'' Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills said in an interview, but "it's not the kind of error that's bringing grevious harm to schools.''

About a month ago, the department found another computer error: Rather than the $17 million they needed, the agency requested only $12 million in school-construction funds for next year.

The Vermont House has already passed a bill including $12 million for school construction, but more funds may become available as the appropriations process continues.
--LONNIE HARP & SARA SKLAROFF

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