Total Overhaul of State Functions Urged By a Gubernatorial Panel in Oklahoma

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A commission created by Gov. George Nigh of Oklahoma to find ways to reduce state spending and to improve government operations has issued recommendations including the abolition of most state elective offices, the sale of surface rights to school lands, and the passage of a "right-to-work" law banning union shops.

In addition, in recommendations specifically related to education, the commission suggested that students spend more time in school and that the state provide more funds to increase per-pupil expenditures and teachers' salaries.

"The public is ready for reform and education is the number-one issue," said John Reid, a spokesman for Governor Nigh.

According to Mr. Reid, the Governor "will immediately take the recommendations and will use them in formulating his budget recommendations to the legislature," which reconvenes in January.

State Cabinet Needed

In a report issued this month outlining nearly 300 recommendations for governmental reform--60 of which are specifically related to education--the commission suggested that most state elective offices, including that of the state superintendent of public instruction, be abolished and replaced with a "cabinet system."

Under such a system, the Governor would appoint the head of each cabinet-level office, subject to confirmation by the state Senate.

The 100-member commission also recommended that the surface rights to the state's 760,000 acres of school lands be sold over a period of 5 to 10 years. Proceeds from the sale of the land could then be placed in the permanent school fund and invested more profitably. The state should retain a one-quarter interest in the underlying minerals of the property, the commission said in its final report to the Governor.

The "right-to-work" law recommended by the commission would prohibit "closed-shop" contracts that require employees to be union members.

More Financial Support

The commission's study group on educational reform--one of nine subcommittees--called for increased financial support for education to bring per-pupil expenditures and teachers' salaries in line with the national averages by 1989.

Subcommittee members also suggested that the state board of education develop a four-step career-ladder plan with a minimum salary increase of $2,000 between steps. Performance evaluations would be carried out by a team of specially-trained administrators and career teachers.

"The local tax base should provide greater support for the financing of public schools," the report states. In fiscal 1982, the state provided about 60 percent of funding for elementary and secondary education in Oklahoma; local governments provided about 32 percent.

Tougher Standards

The subcommittee on education also recommended tougher graduation requirements, longer school days, and a longer school year.

Members of the subcommittee said that students should be required to complete at least 4 units of English, 2 units of mathematics, 2 units of science, 1 unit of American history, 1 unit of world history, 1 unit of fine arts, a half-unit of computer training, and 10.5 units of electives prior to graduation.

And students going on to college, they said, should be "encouraged" to complete additional units of science and mathematics, plus two years of the same foreign language.

The subcommittee encouraged the state board of education to consider extending the school year from a minimum of 175 days to a minimum of 185 days of instruction, and lengthening the total school year from 180 days to 190 days to allow time for professional-development programs.

Elementary-school students should be required to attend school for seven hours a day and secondary-school students should receive at least six hours of academic instruction, the subcommittee said in its report.

Other Recommendations

Other school-related recommendations adopted by the commission include:

The development of a plan for the implementation of the "Oklahoma School Testing Program" prior to3Jan. 1. The plan would include an outline of the testing program, estimated costs, grade levels to be tested, and schedules and procedures for implementation.

A requirement that private schools in Oklahoma meet certain criteria in order to be recognized by the state board of education.

The inclusion of all state employees, among them those of state colleges and universities, in the state's merit-pay system.

The consolidation of all seven state retirement systems, including that for teachers, into a single system.

Vol. 04, Issue 11

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