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Law May Mean Breakup of Los Angeles District

California Gov. Pete Wilson has signed into law a measure that makes it easier to break up the Los Angeles school district, the nation's second largest.

The new law reduces the number of petition signatures needed to put a district-reorganization proposal on local ballots.

The signatures of roughly 70,000 voters who voted in the 1994 gubernatorial election will be required; previously, the signatures of about 360,000 registered voters were needed. (See Education Week, Aug. 2, 1995.)

Proposals that aim only to let one community secede from the district will need signatures from 8 percent of the residents of such a community who voted in the 1994 governor's race.

Parent groups in Carson and the San Fernando Valley have been lobbying for a breakup of the 640,000-student district for more than 20 years.

Critics say such a step would do little to improve student performance and would generate more bureaucracy.

Tax Shift Proposed in N.D.

North Dakota schools would rely far less on local property taxes and more on income taxes under a plan being floated by state education department officials.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Wayne G. Sanstead last month proposed raising existing income taxes by 2 percent and sending the revenue to the school district where each taxpayer lives.

The income tax would generate about $100 million statewide. About $75 million would be used to reduce local property taxes, leaving schools with a net $25 million gain.

"I believe that we cannot solve the funding-equity problem in North Dakota by merely adjusting the distribution of current revenue," Mr. Sanstead told an education-finance committee studying the issue.

In ruling on a lawsuit against the state that cited inequitable funding and educational opportunities, the state supreme court fell one vote short last year of declaring the school-finance system unconstitutional.

In April, a new law shifted some state funding from property-wealthy school districts to poorer ones. (See Education Week, April 26, 1995.)

Any legislative action on Mr. Sanstead's proposal would have to wait until the next biennial session, in 1997.

Re-Elections Barred

Members of New York City's 32 community school boards who are removed from office because of wrongdoing cannot be re-elected to their posts for three years, under legislation signed into law by New York Gov. George E. Pataki.

School board members bounced from office because of corruption have sometimes been quickly returned to their positions by voters, Mr. Pataki noted in a statement last month.

"Wrongdoing cannot and will not be tolerated," the governor said.

New York City's community school board members, who enjoy broad powers under the city's decentralized system of school governance, will face a longer ban than other school board members in the state, whose malfeasance can lead to a one-year exile under the new law.

Mr. Pataki noted the inconsistency and urged the legislature to impose the stiffer ban throughout the state.

Architectural Issues

Although the Idaho legislature has rejected her request for $750,000 to design 12 generic blueprints for schools, Superintendent of Public Instruction Anne Fox is pushing ahead with plans to add a architect to the state education department's staff.

Ms. Fox hired someone for the position after she took office in January, but fired him a month later after discovering he had falsified his credentials.

Although the department has twice advertised the position, which pays $41,000 to $45,000, it has not found any suitable candidates.

Critics say other states have tried using generic plans and found they were unnecessary or didn't work.

"There just has not been a lot of support or recognized need for this particular position," said Michael Friend, the executive director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators.

But Ms. Fox said she would resubmit the funding request, arguing that the plans would save districts time and money. She added that critics have misunderstood the nature of the architect's position. The architect would spend most of his time advising districts on building projects, Ms. Fox said.

Idaho schools are facing a 9 percent growth in enrollment and grappling with a $700 million backlog in new school construction and repairs.

To provide additional aid for improving school facilities, Ms. Fox said late last month that she plans to propose a temporary, 1-cent increase in the state sales tax during the coming legislative session. It would expire after one year and be reinstated once every five years.

Charter Grants

The Georgia Department of Education has awarded 10 schools grants of $5,000 each to help them plan charter schools.

The legislature appropriated $50,000 for the grants last spring in an effort to encourage charter-school applications.

Ten schools applied for the 10 available planning grants, which were distributed this summer and can be used for a range of costs associated with developing an application.

The state's 1993 charter-school law requires that charter plans be approved by a majority of the prospective school's teachers as well as the local school board.

Since spring, the state school board has granted three charters waiving state rules and regulations for schools with innovative programs.

The recipients include two schools that group children of varying ages together in the same classroom, and one that devised its own report card and offers special services for gifted students.

Stressing Skills

A pair of bills pending in the California Senate would require more instruction in basic skills such as spelling, reading, and computation.

The bills are an outgrowth of recent reports that show student weaknesses in both reading and mathematics. Many in the state blame such problems on teaching methods such as whole-language reading instruction. (See Education Week, June 14, 1995.)

Both bills overwhelmingly passed the state Assembly. One would require the state school board to ensure that phonics, spelling, and computation are included in any new instructional materials adopted for grades 1-8.

The other bill would require the state board to adopt spelling texts.

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