News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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The Republican governor has asked the Maricopa County Superior Court to rule that the state has satisfied a 1994 court order to revamp its system of paying for school maintenance and construction.

Critics, who include the elected Republican state schools chief and the poor school districts that originally sued the state, oppose his plea. The governor has asked the court to hold a hearing on the issue soon.

In 1994, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the state's capital-finance system was unconstitutional because it created vast disparities in districts' ability to afford school construction, building maintenance, and equipment.

Last year, lawmakers passed grant-and-loan plans to funnel additional dollars to poor and high-growth districts, but a superior court judge declared the plans insufficient and ordered state officials to devise a new finance system by June 30, 1998.

The judge threatened to freeze state school funds if the deadline was missed.

After much negotiation, lawmakers this year created a formula expected to pass on roughly $32.5 million a year from existing sales-tax revenue to poor districts.

Mr. Symington signed the finance plan into law last month. The formula, Mr. Symington argues in his petition, should satisfy the courts. ("Ariz. Governor Signs Finance Bill; Legal Challenge Likely," March 12, 1997.)

But the plan apparently does not satisfy Timothy M. Hogan, the executive director of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, which represented the districts behind the original funding lawsuit. Mr. Hogan's response to Mr. Symington's latest move: "See you in court."

Iowa Bill Eases Locker Searches

Iowa school officials would find it easier to search student desks and lockers under a bill passed this month by the legislature. The bill would allow school officials to make unannounced searches.

Under the current law, desks and lockers are considered private spaces that officials may check only if they have "reasonable grounds" for suspecting that a law or school rule has been violated--and that a search would produce evidence of a violation.

Typically, under current rules, school officials will only search desks and lockers after giving students advance notice of their intentions.

Rep. Steve Richardson, the Democrat who was the author of the bill, said he hopes the new measure will help school administrators to make their schools safer.

"School officials need to have the tools to get a handle on juvenile crime," said Mr. Richardson, who teaches high school social studies in the Woodward-Granger district northwest of Des Moines.

The bill, which passed both the House and the Senate by wide margins, requires school officials to notify students and their parents in writing at the start of the school year that desks and lockers may be searched at any time.

Republican Gov. Terry E. Branstad is expected to sign the bill soon.

Maine Schools Face $100 Million Repair Bill

Maine's schools could spend more than $100 million for new roofs, furnaces, windows, and other repairs, according to a survey done for the legislature.

About 80 percent of the state's 714 principals told researchers they need to spend $89 million to renovate and improve their schools, according to the report by the University of Maine's Center for Research and Evaluation.

Researchers estimate the construction bill would rise to $107 million if the rest of the state's schools responded to the survey, which the legislature mandated.

Center officials said they made their survey broad in scope, in order to gauge needs in a wide range of areas, including hazardous materials and safety problems, parking, utilities, and recreation.

The principals who answered the survey said $21 million should be spent to replace roofs alone, and another $12 million should be paid to make schools accessible to disabled people. The survey also determined that $13 million could be spent on air quality, heating, and ventilation needs and $1.7 million on asbestos-related issues.

The U.S. General Accounting Office says the nation needs to spend $112 billion to renovate school buildings.

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