Petition Drive Gains

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A Nebraska interest group representing small school districts and a state taxpayers' coalition have amassed more than 50,000 signatures in a petition drive to prevent the implementation of the state's controversial new law on school finance and consolidation.

The groups are expected this week to obtain the additional 5,000 names required to put the law before voters in a referendum during the state's general election in November 1986, according to Stanley Sibley, an education consultant for Gov. Robert Kerrey.

The law would force some 479 elementary-school districts to merge or form affiliations with K-12 districts by 1989. But because it includes a one-cent sales-tax increase, the bill received crucial votes during legislative deliberations from some rural senators who held that the benefits of the tax far outweighed the drawbacks of mass consolidation.

The sales-tax increase would ensure that no more than 45 percent of operational costs of schools come from local property taxes. Currently, about 70 percent of operating funds for Nebraska schools comes from local property taxes.

The Governor, in an attempt to clarify the law, had sought a special session of the legislature for lawmakers to separate the school-finance and consolidation issues into two pieces of legislation, Mr. Sibley said.

But key legislators did not support the special session, he said, because they felt they had "worked too hard and compromised too much to pass the original bill."

The legislature will go into its regular session in January but will be prohibited from changing the law once it has qualified for a popular referendum, according to Mr. Sibley.

In the meantime, a citizen's panel has made recommendations concerning technical and substantive changes in the law "to make it more workable and palatable," according to Mr. Sibley. And the state has set up a school-consolidation hotIine that citizens can call to "register concerns, ask questions, and get straight information on how the bill will affect them."

Vol. 05, Issue 01, Page 31

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