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Deukmejian Opposes Aid to Reduce Class Sizes

Times Staff Writer

Contending that local school districts--not the state--are to blame for overcrowded classrooms, Gov. George Deukmejian expressed opposition Friday to bipartisan legislation that would provide more money to schools that reduce class size.

The legislation, which was resoundingly approved Thursday by the state Senate, would pay schools an additional $210 per student in districts where class size reductions are implemented.

The governor has twice vetoed similar measures. While Deukmejian stopped short of saying that he would veto this latest effort, he made it clear that schools will have to make do with what already has been provided them in the state budget that he approved earlier this week.

Local Decisions Cited

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“Despite the fact that we have been increasing the amount of total support to the school districts, the decisions are being made at the local level apparently not to put that money into reducing class size,” Deukmejian told reporters after a speech to an American Legion state convention.

“The decisions apparently are being made to spend it on some of the other educational programs or to further add to increases in teacher salaries,” he said. If school districts believe class size is “their highest priority, then I think they should use the funds available and start to reduce class size,” he added.

California schools have an average class size of 30 pupils, one of the highest in the nation. The aim of the legislation, by Sen. Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara), is to reduce classes to an average of 20 pupils.

Although the measure has broad support among leaders of both parties, Democrats have been speaking out strongly on the bill apparently in hopes of embarrassing the Republican governor in this election year.

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Democrats are particularly angry that Deukmejian takes credit for major increases in educational spending that first were approved by the Democratic-controlled Legislature. They believe that his vetoes leave him politically vulnerable, especially his veto last year of a major package of bills intended to provide financing for classroom construction projects in rapidly growing districts.

Hart’s class-size legislation would cost $60 million the first year but increase to as much as $800 million by 1995. Deukmejian said the state “simply cannot continue to fund every single program” in the amounts that school officials expect.

Record Defended

In defending his record, Deukmejian said state support for public schools has increased 20% per pupil during his Administration.

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“In the five-year period prior to the time our Administration started, the schools actually had no real increase at all because whatever increases were given were eaten up by the increases in the cost of living,” he said.

He noted that about half of the $37-billion state budget goes for education. Deukmejian, however, vetoed $112 million for public school funds, much of it in special aid to urban schools and money intended for community colleges.

Later, in a speech prepared for a reelection campaign fund-raiser in Salinas, the governor struck out at his Democratic challenger, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, for failing to say whether he supports a boycott of California grapes organized by Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers union.

‘Against the Boycott’

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“I’m against the boycott,” Deukmejian said. “On the other hand, my opponent, Mayor Bradley, won’t tell us where he stands. Just like he has done on the (Chief Justice) Rose Bird issue, the mayor dares to be neutral.”

Chavez called the boycott, a low-profile affair, last year as a protest against what he viewed as an anti-worker bias of the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board, a majority of whose members and general counsel are appointees of Deukmejian.


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