State News Roundup

October 05, 1981 4 min read
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Verne A. Duncan, Oregon’s superintendent of public instruction, thinks there may be alternatives to school strikes--and he will ask the State Board of Education this month to appoint an independent task force to look for them.

“School strikes hurt everyone,” says Mr. Duncan. “The only people who make money out of it are the negotiators.”

Insisting that he is not opposed to the right to strike, Mr. Duncan says he is concerned about the legacy of bitterness that strikes leave with teachers, administrators, parents, and students. In a recent speech, Mr. Duncan said, “The toll extracted from the communities where strikes have occurred represents too high a price to pay...the scars are too deep.”

There have been only nine major strikes in Oregon since 1974, when a statewide collective-bargaining law for public employees took effect. Yet, says Mr. Duncan, “The few we’ve had here have been disastrous, and I don’t like what’s happening in the cities in the East.”

Among the options that might be considered, Mr. Duncan says, is “final-offer arbitration.” The task force, as he conceives it, would not have any representatives from the education community, but he hopes that the state’s teachers’ associations could be persuaded to support the group’s findings.

Only 1 percent of California’s high-school seniors last year were denied diplomas because they failed proficiency tests in basic skills, a recent survey by the state department of education reveals.

The failure rate was much lower than expected, according to Wilson Riles, state superintendent of public instruction. “Despite many concerns, our students took notice of early warning growing out of failures on prelimiry tests and learned to do better,” Mr. Riles said.

Mr. Riles said that the department’s telephone survey of 15 large school districts found that 560 of the districts’ 55,000 seniors failed to receive diplomas solely because of the tests.

Proficiency tests for minimum competency in reading, writing, and mathematics are required under a 1976 state law. School districts phased in their own tests over the past four years, but the 1981 senior class was the first to face the tests as a graduation requirement.

Pennsylvania school districts may be required to share in special-education costs if a proposed finance formula now in public hearings is introduced and approved by the state legislature.

Helen Caffrey, executive director of the State Senate Education Committee, said reduced federal aid and shrinking state resources make it impossible to continue the current “blank-check” reimbursement formula for school districts. Under the new formula, she said, school districts would be reimbursed according to the median cost for teaching a handicapped or gifted student plus $1,500.

If school districts spent more than that amount, they would be reimbursed for 85 percent of the excess cost rather than the current 100 percent. Ms. Caffrey said the proposed formula, a joint effort of the state legislature’s Senate Education Committee and the House Subcommittee on Basic Education, is simply a framework which is being tested at public hearings.

In 1980-81, the state spent $282 million to educate approximately 250,000 special-education students.

Minnesota school districts are having financial troubles as well as labor problems. School boards in the state are asking residents to vote for higher school taxes this year than ever before.

The state department of education estimates that this fall at least 40 districts in the state are holding “maintenance” referendums that would allow the districts to exceed state limits on the amount they can raise through property taxes. That’s compared to a total of 135 such referendums in the past ten years.

Several groups are working against such levies, including one group, Parents of Minnesota Inc., that represents parents who favor private or home schooling.

“We’re not for giving school districts aid because they’re not doing their jobs,” said an organization spokesman. “In 30 years we’ll have people at the helm 30 percent more ignorant than the people before them.”

Revisions of federal tax laws already are causing problems for education in Rhode Island, where state income taxes are tied to the federal formula. As a result, the state department of education may be forced to impose an unprecedented spending limit on school districts.

Kenneth Mellor, the department’sdget officer, said the schools will be faced with extremely tight budgets because the state must automatically cut its income taxes in line with the federal tax cut, reducing the state funds available for reimbursement.

The state legislature has directed the governor to set an 8-percent ceiling on the state’s spending increase But the department already is scheduled to pay out more than $137 million for 1982-83, an increase of about 11 percent over the $124 million school districts received for 1981-82, Mr. Mellor said.

More financial problems for Rhode Island schools stem from a $1-million reduction in federal school-lunch subsidies. In addition to increasing lunch prices, districts are negotiating with unions to lay off cafeteria workers.

A version of this article appeared in the October 05, 1981 edition of Education Week as State News Roundup

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