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7B ..-- August 3,1975 Sunday Gazette-Mail Innovative Maine School Law Survives Budget Cuts By Jerry Harkavy AUGUSTA. Maine AP) - An equal education for every child. And Maine is trying to lead the way. despite a tax revolt. Two years ago. the legislature enacted Legislative Document 1994, a landmark law designed to eliminate inequities in school financing through the use of a uniform property tax for education. The law went into effect in the 1974-1975 school year and it wiped out some of the time-honored advantages of the state's wealthier communities. For the first time, the poorest towns and cities were assured enough tax dollars to operate quality school. * * * SOME PEOPLE have hailed 1994 as a model for the nation. But the first year of experience has been one of great controversy. A $20 million deficit in the state's school budget has been blamed by some on the new law. and a tax revolt has developed in some wealthy coastal towns where school taxes rose. Castine. for example, has voted to refuse to collect the new state school tax. Three other communities decided at town meetings to put their school tax money in escrow when it's collected this summer, pending a court test. A court test, if it went to the U.S. Supreme Court, might have an impact elsewhere in the country. Montana is the only other state with a law similar to Maine's. But other states are considering enactment of a uniform school tax. according to the U.S. Office of Education. Opposition to 1994 has helped spawn a movement called the Freedom Fighters. Various local groups using this name were formed last winter to fight what they consider too much state interference in town government. James B. Longley, who took office this year as the nation's only governor without party affiliation, has advocated repeal of the school finanre law. A citizens' group, calling itself Save Our State, is circulating petitions asking the legislature to repeal the law, or to put it to a statewide referendum. * * * ' BACK IN 1973, equalization seemed to many Maine lawmakers like an idea whose time had come. The California Supreme Court's ruling in Serrano vs. Priest had struck down the use of local property taxation as the basis for school funding. The Maine Teachers Assn. had gone to court with a Serrano-type suit, and the attitude at'the state house was act voluntarily, or be forced into action by the judiciary. Even the Rodriguez decision, a Texas case in which the U.S. Supreme Court_ ruled 5-4 against the Serrano principle that the quality of a child's education should not be determined by the wealth of the .community in which he resides, did not blunt the drive toward reform in Maine. In Maine, as in most other states the local tax on real estate was the principal device for paying the tab for education. About two-thirds of all nonfederal money ,. spent on schools was raised locally and spent locally. " Consequently, .there were big d i f f e r - ences between schools in the wealthiest and the poorest towns. Communities with high property valuations could afford new buildings, college-level .electives. good laboratories, swimming pools. Others made do with barebones programs. . * * * THE EXAMPLE that many pointed to was tax-rich Wiscasset. the handsome coastal village peopled by wealthy summer folk and retirees, and home to the state's only nuclear, power plant, which paid 90 per cent of the taxes. About 10 miles inland was Richmond, a down-at-the heels farming community. It had the same number of studies as Wiscasset. but only one-tenth the valuation. When 1994 was being debated, Richmond Gov. James B. Longley Wants School Law Killed spent $487 per pupil, to Wiscasset's $954. At the same time, Richmond's school tax rate was 41 mills, or $41 per thousand, compared with 20 mills in Wiscasset. Pupils in Wiscasset had specialized vocational programs, music and art courses, and well-equipped science and language laboratories. Those in Richmond didn't even have a gymnasium. Maine has many Richmonds, and officials of these towns were warning that their residents could not pay higher taxes to improve their schools. They demanded help from the legislature. It was another reason for the legislature to act. And it did. First. Legislative Document 1994 boosted to 50 per cent-it had been 35 per cent-the chunk of total education costs the slate would pay from its general fund, made up largely of sales and income taxes. It was the other 50 per cent that has caused all the trouble. Every town and city, rich and poor alike, would pay to the state a new uniform property tax for education. The law in practice raised the school tax rate for the wealthy communities, such as Wiscasset, and lowered it for the poorer ones, such as Richmond. * * * THE STATE was the middleman, collecting the tax from the municipalities and returning it accordng to an arcane formu- j la designed to lead to an equal expenditure for each pupil. It was Robin Hood resurrected, taking from the rich and giving to the poor. Richmond and other towns saw their school expenditures rise toward $760 per pupil, the state average for the first year of the new law. They used their newly-increased income .to purchase buses, replace aging textbooks and start the construction of new facilities. But a new mood of budget-cutting has emerged in this state capital. After eight years of burgeoning state government under Gov. Kenneth M. Curtis, a progressive Democrat, independent Longley was elected in November on a promise to control the bureaucracy and hold the line on taxes. As the Longley administration struggled . this winter and spring to live up to its pledge of a balanced budget within existing revenue, a $20 million deficit developed in school finances--a deficit some blamed on the new law. Others said it would have developed anyway because of inflation and rising pupil enrollment. There were other problems. Legislative Document 1994 placed a ceiling on the amount each local school district could spend from funds raised locally in addition to the uniform state school tax. This drew criticism from wealthy towns with expensive school programs. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING AS A HEDGE AGAINST INFLATION?" r I "I'M GETTING A MASTER'S DEGREE AT COGS SO I'LL HAVE A LOT MORE CAREER OPTIONS!" -ENROLL AUGUST 27- Student Union, Morris Harvey College, 2-7:30 p.m. Offering master's degrees in: Â·Counseling Guidance 'Secondary Education 'Industrial Relations Â· Educational Administration 'Reading Education 'Public Administration Â·Special Education 'School Psychology Â· Chemical Engineering Â· Elementary Education 'General Engineering Â· Business Administration Â·Industrial Engineering Systems Analysis 'Environmental Studies^ West Virginia College oi __,,. --your hedge against inflation i| Centers inGftarkston' Institute Â· BeckleytfiuefieldÂ· Athem^ewis.burg^ Breathing 'Corpses 9 Lead Police to Burglars FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - Two bodies at a local funeral home were still breathing, so police arrested them for investigation of burglary. 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