State Journal: Fronton trading: Letters backfire: Not like me

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Rhode Island legislators have engaged in some old-fashioned horse-trading--more accurately, dog- and fronton-trading--to get state help for two cities' hard-pressed schools.

While approving school-aid cuts to districts throughout the state, legislators late last month agreed to allow Pawtucket and Woonsocket to defer contributions to their teacher-pension funds for a year.

The provision will allow Pawtucket, which will lose $5 million in aid, to save $2.9 million in pension payments, while Woonsocket will lose $2.8 million and save $1.9 million.

Other districts criticized the plan as special treatment, but officials of the two systems said the help was crucial to their survival and pointed out that they will have to repay the deferred contributions with interest.

In return for support of the change, Pawtucket representatives reportedly agreed not to try to force a state vote on a proposal to allow simulcast off-track-betting at Lincoln Greyhound Park and Newport Jai Alai.

In a number of states in recent years, teachers have encouraged their students to write to their legislators during debate over the budget--both as an exercise in civic participation and as a tactic for winning more money for the schools.

Sometimes the efforts can backfire by alienating lawmakers, however, particularly when the students' letters are ungrammatical or threatening.

In California, aides to Gov. Pete Wilson have made a public issue out of some of the letters sent to him, a few of them violent in tone.

"I hope someone stuffs a bomb in your mouth and blows your head off," wrote one student.

Critics say the letters represent an unfair attempt by teachers to manipulate their students to their own ends. But some educators say the letters reflect students' deep frustrations over school-aid cutbacks.

The Louisiana Senate has passed a bill allowing school officials to conduct searches of any student they suspected of carrying weapons or drugs.

Before debate began on the measure, some senators apparently were troubled by questions about its constitutionality.

But virtually all opposition was swept away, observers said, after Senator B.B. "Sixty" Rayburn delivered an emotional floor speech for the bill.

"The younger generation is not like me and you," he said. "They don't see the dangers like we do. Drugs are at the bottom of it, and I'll do everything I can to stomp them out, too."--hd

Vol. 10, Issue 38

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