State News Roundup

October 10, 1984 5 min read

Alabama’s business community is generally displeased with the state’s public-education system, although businessmen say recent moves toward school reform are a step in the right direction, according to the results of a recent survey of more than 120 Alabama businessmen and leaders in education and industrial development.

Public education was one of six major “business-climate weaknesses” cited in the report, “State of Alabama: Comparative Business Climate Analysis.” The $85,000 study was commissioned by state officials to inventory the state’s weak-nesses related to economic development, according to Michael B. McCain, assistant director of the Alabama Office of Development.

The 123-page document revealed that 71 percent of those surveyed called public education in Alabama “substandard.” According to a consultant with Fantus Company, the New Jersey firm that conducted the analysis, those surveyed were dissatisfied with the quality of teachers, the curriculum, and school facilities.

And although the industry representatives surveyed also expressed “general satisfaction” with the state’s current high-school vocational-education programs, they suggested that the state identify and implement educational programs “to prepare graduates to cope with emerging technologies in manufacturing and white-collar industries.”

Based on the survey findings, authors of the report suggested that state officials arrange additional funding methods for some postsecon-dary institutions; develop a “master plan” to support colleges and universities; set up retraining programs for displaced workers; and examine the “current educational philosophy and spending efficiency.”

The newly-appointed Mississippi Board of Education voted 6 to 1 last month to eliminate, as of next school year, all exemptions to a 1972 state law limiting class size to 27 students in grades 1-4.

In the past, Mississippi’s former three-member state board had exempted many school districts from the law, said Yvonne C. Dyson, supervisor of accreditation of elementary schools for the state education department.

But the new board members--who assumed their positions July 1 on an expanded nine-member board mandated by a constitutionalent--felt that they had to take a stronger stand on the issue after they received information from state education officials on enrollment in classrooms in grades 1-4, Ms. Dyson said.

The board learned, for example, that one classroom had 39 students, and several classrooms had 33 or 34 students.

This school year, the board already has received 10 requests for exemptions from the law, Ms. Dyson said.

The withdrawal of exemptions has met with criticism from school administrators who, in order to comply with the law, will be forced to hire additional teachers without receiving additional funding next year, Ms. Dyson said.

The state does not plan to make more money available to school districts to help meet the requirement, she said last week.

Oregon voters in 43 of the 58 school districts that held levy elec-tions last month approved increased school-funding requests.

The 15 districts in which voters rejected levy increases are expected to vote again in the general election, according to Larry Austin, a spokesman for the state department of education.

The North Marion school district is considering holding an emergency election before that time because it does not have the funds to operate through October, Mr. Austin said.

And in Deschutes County, where a $5.3-million operating levy for the Bend-La Pine school district was not approved, the school board has moved to reduce the operating budget by $4.4 million, according to Karen Richey, a spokesman for the school district.

As part of those cuts, she said, 94 school employees, including three substitute teachers, were laid off last month. In addition, the school board has eliminated all extracurricular activities, including athletics; has ended all home-to-school transportation; and has shortened the school year by several days.

The school board met last month to consider a citizens’ effort to request another levy election on Nov. 6, Ms. Richey said.

Also on the Nov. 6 ballot is a 1.5-percent property-tax-limitation measure that would reduce the revenue available to school districts in the 1985-86 school year, Mr. Austin said. If “measure 2" passes, he said, schools will lose a quarter to a third of their annual budgets.

Charging that the underassessment of property values in some Wyoming districts has led to unfair taxation, a coalition representing nine school districts has directed its legal counsel to prepare a complaint against the State Board of Equalization. The three-member board develops rules and regulations related to property assessment in the state.

The Coalition of Recapture Districts represents nine districts that have lost local tax revenue in the past year as a result of a March 1983 school-funding-equalization plan. Under the plan, “excess” revenue from relatively wealthy districts is redistributed to poorer ones.

Melvin L. Antrim, superintendent for the Campbell County School District and secretary of the coalition, said the lawsuit would not be directed against the equalization plan itself.

However, he noted that the coalition thinks the plan devised by the legislature in reponse to a court order does not take into account the higher cost of education in some areas of the state.

Once the complaint is prepared, each district will decide whether to participate in a lawsuit, he said.

The coalition has also requested that the court case that resulted in the equalization plan--Washakie County School District Number One v. Governor Herschler--remain3open so districts have some recourse for contesting the equalization plan.

The coalition also plans to pursue legislation that would count federal payments to military bases and Indian reservations as local revenue in determining the redistribution of funds, and would allow for the public disclosure of property values across the state, according to Mr. Antrim.

In addition, the coalition claims that the state has relied too heavily on the recapture of local revenue to finance education and should appropriate more state dollars for schooling.

A version of this article appeared in the October 10, 1984 edition of Education Week as State News Roundup