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School financing at mid-term Austin It’s busy, busy, busy at the Legislature. No major legislation has yet made its tortuous way to the governor’s desk, but the committees are in full grapple with the issues, and we’ll soon know whether the 64th Legislature is capable of coping with the biggies. The pink granite big top is teeming with visitors, classes of tittering teenagers, pre-schoolers solemnly holding onto a buddy’s sticky paw and gazing wide-eyed up at the baby-blue Rotunda dome. Every couple of weeks the non-liberated ladies come out in great herds to serve up home-baked goodies and cajole their legislators to rescind the equal rights amendment. They can be seen in long, frilly dresses, arrayed outside some representative’s office, taking turns signing the office guest book. The lobbyists ooze and eddy through the legions of visiting school children, trying to talk over the dull rumble of hundreds of tiny footsteps. In terms of sheer volume, the only group to rival the visiting school children is the visiting school teachers, whose presence is felt in committee meetings as well as on the rumbling stairways of the Capitol Building. Wearing “Now or Never” buttons, the teachers, who averaged $8,920 last year, appeal for higher salaries. THE CAMPAIGN started this year on a strident note. On March 1, theAssociated Press quoted Callie Smith, executive secretary of the Texas State Teachers Association, as saying the demand for a $1,000 a month starting salary was “not negotiable.” Smith called Gov. Dolph Briscoe’s proposal to pay beginning teachers $743 a month “by no means adequate,” which put the teachers on a collision course with Briscoe’s pledge that he will sign no bills that might require new levels of taxation. By the time the House Committee on Public Education got around to hearing testimony on teachers’ salaries in late March, Smith was not sounding so militant. He insisted that teachers, rather than making ultimatums, were simply lobbying for the best of all possible school finance bills. A night hearing on teachers’ salaries was the climax of a week of Public Education sessions on the five school financing proposals. It drew a full gallery of teachers from all over the state. Legislators had been riled earlier in the day by a telegram signed by the faculty of Elma Neal Elementary School in San Antonio. “Teachers would rather work ‘through our state than the union,” it said. “The governor could threaten his insane veto only with backing from his party. If our $10,000 pay increase bill has not passed his desk, expect a bloc vote against your pay raise. We will not need TSTA’s directive to vote for your increase.” The telegram touched an issue very close to legislators’ heartstheir own pocketbooks. The Texas Constitution sets their salary at a measly $4,800 a year, which means that most representatives endure financial sacrifice to serve in the Legislature. Voters repeatedly have turned thumbs down at a pay increase, and legislators are getting desperate. Needless to say, when teachers demand $10,000 salaries from public officials who themselves make $4,800 \(for less than a to be a little ill will. The telegram moved Rep. Ron Waters of Houston to a personal privilege speech in which he lamented the fact that legislators “have been ridiculed and put down time and time again . . . . I for one am standing up to say I won’t stand for this kind of stuff . . .” Legislative sleuths immediately started sniffing out the origins of the offensive telegram. San Antonio school officials denied that it had come from faculty members of the Elma Neal School. The message was traced only as far as a San Antonio Western Union office where a mysterious stranger provided the text and paid for its delivery in cash. What could have been an unfriendly hearing turned into a mutual admiration society. Rep. DeWitt Hale of Corpus Christi, sponsor of the TSTA bill, explained to the teachers that legislators have not received a pay raise since 1960, and he urged them to support an upcoming constitutional amendment to remedy that situation.’ The teachers who packed the gallery rose in unison and applauded the committee, at which point the committee members stood and applauded the gallery, much like performers in the Chinese theatre. Texas teachers’ salaries rank 39th among the 50 states, but salaries are not supposed to be the linch pin in the school financing issue. The main point is supposed to be the necessity to equalize education statewide so that students in poor districts get an education comparable to students in rich districts. But then school children can’t vote and teachers can, in great numbers. Governor Briscoe’s bill came in for the most criticism by teachers. Of the five bills, Briscoe’s is the stingiest. His proposed $743 a month base salary would provide teachers with only $140 more than they would be getting next year under the present salary scale. Rep. Joe Pentony, a Houston liberal who is sponsoring Briscoe’s bill in the House, was somewhat apologetic about the pay proposal. “I know $7,430 isn’t enough,” he admitted, “but when you look at what the governor has already said, then it seems to me that an $800 a year raise is better than nothing.” Better, certainly, than a kick in the head. \(There has been considerable speculation as to why Pentony agreed to sponsor the governor’s bill. Some guess that he just didn’t know much about school financing when he took on the thankless chore. Others believe he was looking down the road to House and conference committee negotiations, where an extra liberal might be of some help in getting a good school The current 10-month salary for beginning teachers with a bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate is $6,600, but that will increase automatically next year. a bill, proposed by the Texas Education Agency \(HB 1126 by R. B. McAlister of months’ work. HB 946 by Rep. Dan Kubiak of Rockdale has an $8,400 a year base salary and HB 1715 by Reps. Carlos Truan, Eddie Bernice Johnson, and 29 other liberal and minority representatives establishes an $8,000 a year salary. MOVING ON from the salary issue, school financing gets difficult, not only because the subject is complex, but also because people dealing with school finance persist in using an overkill of educational and managerial jargon. They blather about renewal and fiscal neutrality, differential pupil needs, impact modeling, held harmless clauses, and recapture provisions until the listener yearns to hear the word “book” or “desk” or “recess.” The Rodriguez decision \(Obs., Dec. 15, nation on notice that new ways would have to be found to offer equal educational opportunities to all students. It established that the education of a child should not depend on the wealth of his neighbors but rather on the wealth of a state as a whole. Equal education sounds simple enough, until you start figuring out how to do it. In Hawaii there’s only one school district, which simplifies matters considerably. But Texas has 1103 school districts, April 11, 19 75 3