News In Brief

January 29, 1992 4 min read

New Jersey school officials will be subject to a stringent ethics code, under a bill signed by Gov. James J. Florio this month.

Under the law, school-board members, chief school administrators, and school authorities who are responsible for or have influence over personnel or purchasing will be required to submit financial-disclosure forms. Although the officials will not have to reveal their salaries, the measure requires that they list the sources of income in excess of $2,000 annually and of gifts and honoraria of more than $250 a year.

Moreover, the law prohibits activities that could be construed as conflicts of interest. For example, a superintendent would be barred from involvement in the hiring process or contracting for the services of a relative.

A school ethics commission, appointed by the governor, will investigate complaints and oversee the disclosure process.

“We’re not saying that [unethical behavior] is rampant in New Jersey,” said Edward J. Richardson, the legislative liaison for the state education department. Rather, he explained, what the state is saying is, “We don’t want it to be a part of public education.”

Gov. Jim Edgar of Illinois has vetoed a bill that committed the state to restoring $176 million in state aid to schools within two years.

Mr. Edgar said the proposal to restore the delayed state aid payments “may soothe superintendents for the moment” but represents a promise that the state might have to break.

In an effort to break a stalemate over the state budget, Governor Edgar and the legislature agreed last summer to defer part of this June’s aid payment to districts to a later date.

Lawmakers said at the time that they intended to reimburse districts for the deferred payment when money became available. But local school officials asserted that the budget agreement did not obligate the state to make up the skipped payment, and so pressed for a statutory promise.

In vetoing the bill, the Governor urged that it be changed to assure that the state pay districts the proper amounts of interest owed on the deferred payments.

New York State advocacy groups are threatening legal action against a bill passed by the legislature that would delay community-school-board elections in New York City.

As of midweek, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo had not signed the legislation, which sponsors said would grant more time for school reforms before local beard members began new three-year terms.

“This bill ... disenfranchises neighborhood coalitions and minorities, and we believe it’s a violation of the Voting Rights Act,” said Harriet Pike Epstein, the communications director for the Community Service Society.

Ms. Epstein said her organization was prepared to file a complaint with the U.S. Justice Department if the state postpones the May 5 elections. The bill does not set a new date for voting.

Also opposing the delay are the state chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the League of Women Voters, and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, along with other community-based organizations.

A South Dakota Senate committee has approved a bill aimed at substantially increasing revenues generated by the sale of state school lands.

The proposal, which was slated for Senate consideration last week, would alter the state constitution to permit the sale of school lands in tracts larger than the 80 acres now allowed.

Permitting the sale of larger tracts would attract more potential buyers, thus creating competition and driving up sale prices, argued State Commissioner of School and Public Lands Curt Johnson, who explained that ranchers prefer to buy land in 640- or 320-acre parcels.

Money from the sale and lease of school lands goes into a permanent investment fund. South Dakota currently has about 810,000 acres of school lands remaining from the 3 million acres originally designated by the federal government, Mr. Johnson said.

The measure, which has encountered some opposition, must pass both the Senate and House before it can appear on the statewide ballot that would be required to make a constitutional change.

The Georgia House is considering a proposal to allow local referendums for sales taxes for school construction.

A measure approved by the House Ways and Means Committee this month would place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to allow county commissions to call referendums to impose a 1 percent sales tax for education.

The local school board would present voters with a list of school-construction projects to be funded by the sales-tax revenues.

Currently, only county commissions and city governments can use revenues from special 1 percent sales taxes, and only one such tax can be in effect at a time.

Gov. John R. McKernan Jr. of Maine has proposed a $10-million reduction in general-purpose aid to local schools as part of his revised budget plan for fiscal 1993.

The Governor, who faces a $/67 million deficit in the second year of his two-year budget, announced plans Jan. 17 to cut state aid to education by about 2 percent. Precollegiate education, which makes up almost 41 percent of the state’s budget, would bear only 9.5 percent of the proposed cuts, however, with general-government and human services funding suffering the largest proportional reductions.

In addition to the general purpose-aid reductions, Mr. McKernan proposed cutting more than $3 million from the state department of education.

While the Governor wants to restore funding for the Maine Educational Assessment testing program, he proposed eliminating the state’s bureau of assessment, as well as some grants for alternative education and adult literacy.

A version of this article appeared in the January 29, 1992 edition of Education Week as News In Brief