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State Journal: Equity; Vox populi

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Ten Minnesota school districts are facing fines of as much as $3.2 million each for failing to comply with the state's pay-equity law.

The law mandates that local governments pay workers in female-dominated job categories salaries equivalent to those received by workers in male-dominated jobs requiring similar training and skill.

The law is 10 years old, but localities had until the end of 1991 to comply. Based on 1992 reports, the state's employee-relations department applied several tests, comparing salaries and the number of years it takes male and female employees to reach maximum pay.

The office sent initial notices to 537 jurisdictions--including 100 districts--that did not meet state standards, said Faith N. Zwemke, the state's pay-equity coordinator. Those that did not rectify the situation received penalty notices this winter.

The prescribed fine is $100 per day or 5 percent of a locality's state aid or whichever one is more. The recent notice covered 1992 and 1993, and the minimum fine is $73,000. The district hit with the steepest penalty was South Washington County, where 5 percent of state aid for two years amounts to $3.2 million.

Ms. Zwemke said all 40 jurisdictions that received penalty notices have appealed. State officials can suspend or reduce fines if a locality can show severe hardship or steps toward compliance, or that the salary imbalance was a result of "nongender factors'' or circumstances beyond its control.

The past year's debate over educational quality and funding in the Michigan legislature--which led lawmakers to take the radical step of banning local property taxes for schools--has apparently reduced public confidence in the state's education system.

In a poll of 800 residents, 8 percent of respondents gave the Michigan public schools an A, and 34 percent gave them a B, down from 12 percent and 44 percent, respectively, in 1992.

It was the lowest confidence level found by the survey since 1983, when A Nation at Risk was released. But a majority of respondents also said the reforms enacted by the legislature will improve school performance.

"Schools aren't 14 percent worse this year than they were last year,'' the pollster, William Sederberg, told The Associated Press. "The public has again become skeptical of public schools, is interested in change, and is hopeful about the changes that were implemented.''

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