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Reform Picture Hazy as Ala. Gov.-Elect Vows Appeal

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Supporters of court-ordered school reform in Alabama are taking a wait-and-see attitude as they approach the inauguration next week of a new Governor openly hostile to their cause.

The short-term fate of proposals to change the way schools are run and financed in the state is in question because the Republican Governor-elect, Fob James Jr., has said he opposes a 1993 court ruling that found K-12 schools so inadequate and inequitable as to be unconstitutional.

Mr. James defeated Democratic Gov. James E. Folsom Jr. in November. Mr. James, who served in the governorship from 1979 to 1982 as a Democrat, is to be sworn into office Jan. 16.

"Traditionally, our politicians have not taken courageous positions" on reforming state institutions such as schools, mental hospitals, and prisons, said Cathy Gassenheimer, the managing director of A-Plus, a citizens' group that pushes school reform.

"I hope Governor James is not going to be one of those folks," she said.

Reform plans ordered by Montgomery County Circuit Judge Eugene W. Reese and backed by Governor Folsom stalled in two legislative sessions last year.

To accommodate state officials just coming into office, Judge Reese last month gave the state more time to come up with a plan.

Outlook Uncertain

But Chris Bence, a spokesman for the Governor-elect, said last week that Judge Reese's ruling violates the constitutional guarantee of a separation of powers.

"Judges don't make laws--or they're not supposed to," Mr. Bence said.

Mr. Bence said the Governor-elect would like to see the ruling overturned in court or somehow negated by the legislature, which opens its regular session in April.

Whether Mr. James can appeal the ruling remains an open question. One legal expert said an appeal would have to have been made within 42 days of the ruling.

It is unclear what direction the legislature might take under the new Governor's leadership or how Judge Reese's might respond if he views their efforts as inadequate.

In his previous term, Mr. James was known as a friend to education. And while he campaigned on the promise that he would not raise taxes, an aide reportedly told incoming members of the state board of education that Mr. James would work to get K-12 education a bigger slice of the state education-funding pie.

With the outlook uncertain, the A-Plus activist group has decided to stop what had been energetic efforts to lobby the state legislature, and instead focus on building public support for reform, Ms. Gassenheimer said last week.

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