News in Brief
A tax-reform task force appointed by Gov. Guy Hunt of Alabama has issued a wide-ranging set of recommendations that includes calls for nearly $500 million a year in new tax revenues and a requirement that local school superintendents be appointed rather than elected.
The proposals, which reflect compromises among the 33 education, business, and community leaders on the panel, are intended to be implemented as a whole in fiscal year 1994. "All of these things have to be linked together as a package," explained David C. Rickey, a spokesman for the task force.
The recommendations would require counties to impose a minimum tax of 20 mills on the assessed value of property or lose their state funding. Some counties currently tax at a higher rate, while others now are as low as 8.5 mills, Mr. Rickey noted.
That change, along with a higher ad valorem personal-property tax rate, an increased corporate-income tax rate, and other proposals, would generate about $498 million a year in new revenue for the state, according to Mr. Rickey.
A "large majority" of that would go to education, he said.
The recommendation to appoint superintendents who are currently elected, Mr. Rickey said, was made "to take the politics out of that position."
Pa. Districts Ordered To Rebate Property Taxes
A Commonwealth Court judge in Pennsylvania has ordered school districts to rebate taxes to local property owners.
To offset a statewide tax increase passed last August, the legislature mandated that districts cut their property taxes to reflect the additional state education funding they received.
The legislature also reduced the contribution rate to the teachers' retirement system, which is split 5050 between the state and districts. Those savings were to be rebated to the taxpayers as well.
The Pennsylvania School Boards Association filed suit against the mandates, however, arguing that districts should be able to use the money to restore programs and make up deficits resulting from a change in the special-education formula. (See Education Week, Sept. 11, 1991 .)
The association also argued that at least part of the savings incurred from the cut in the pension-fund rate was locally generated and therefore should be excluded from the rebate.
The court sided with the P.S.B.A. on the pension issue but said districts must rebate the other monies.
With the exclusion of the pension savings, the association is asking that districts be permitted to recalculate their rebates to determine if they are eligible for waivers under a cost-effectiveness provision covering districts in which the amount to be refunded would not cover the administrative costs of providing the rebate.
Adding to the fiscal pressures on Pennsylvania districts, Gov. Robert P. Casey's 1993 budget has omitted a $125-million education funding increase that the legislature had earmarked for the 199293 school year.
Consequently, school districts would be funded at the same basic level next year as they are now, a situation that has disturbed the education community.
"We weren't expecting huge sums," said Tom Gentzel, the assistant executive director of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. But, he added, the districts were basing their budgets on the $125 million the legislature had committed.
"The recession got in the way. The money's just not there," the Governor said in his budget message.
The budget proposal also reduces aid to state institutions of higher education and eliminates subsidies to private colleges and universities.
Governor Casey recommended increases, however, for special-education, early-intervention, and school nutrition programs.
A Texas taxpayer has filed suit in federal court seeking to nullify the county-education-district taxes struck down last month by the state supreme court.
In its ruling overturning the state's school-finance system for the third time, the Texas Supreme Court declared the taxes unconstitutional but said they should be levied and paid until the finance system is replaced in June 1993. (See Education Week, Feb. 5, 1992.)
Lawyers representing James H. Smith of Lakeway, who filed the suit, will attempt to have it certified as a class action including all of the state's taxpayers.
A plan to replace Ohio's 88 county school boards with up to 50 regional-service centers is before the Senate education committee after winning approval by a subcommittee.
The proposal, which seeks to convert some overhead expenses into instructional spending, would not affect city and exempted village districts across the state. The bill would declare the 15 Ohio counties with 19,000 or more students to be regions.
A substitute version of the bill that passed the subcommittee would also provide certain funding guarantees to counties that consolidated to form a region. And while generally defining the services each regional center would provide, the plan would leave the state board of education to approve details and set standards for the new governance units.
Local presidents of the Washington Education Association have agreed to ask their members to cancel classes for one day next month to lobby the legislature for higher education funding.
According to the w.E.A., teachers would have the option of participating in a "day of conscience" during the first week of March if they can persuade their district to make up the canceled class time by extending the school year by one day.
Union officials said they are planning for teachers to stagger their "day of conscience" by district on March 3-6, the last full week the legislature is expected to be in session.
As part of general cost-cutting measures, Gov. Booth Gardner has proposed in his budget to eliminate a 3.55 percent pay raise for teachers set to begin in September.
The Washington State House has passed a bill banning spanking and other forms of corporal punishment in school.
Under the measure, the state board of education would be required to adopt a policy prohibiting corporal punishment by Sept. 1.