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News Clips

News Clips – Oct. 22 - 29, 2004 

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STATE 
Regional superintendents not sure they'll have jobs
/
Daily Herald
Students' lunches shouldn't be used as bargaining tool / Rockford Register Star
Candidates for state House talk about school spending / Daily Herald
Growing crisis may trigger changes in school funding / Pantagraph
Schools to get rid of pop at a heavy cost / Chicago Sun-Times
Ex-high school student gets $6,250 for injury / Chicago Tribune
Glenbard North axes student editorial / Daily Herald
Year-round school is better option / Daily Herald
City’s public high schools to offer college credit in ’05 / State Journal-Register
Illinois sends $10 million to booming school districts / Chicago Tribune
Health Center for Urbana schools up and running / Champaign News-Gazette
Aurora U. to open campus to children / Chicago Tribune
School Board recommends uniform colors / News Sun
Small district serves students, town better / Daily Herald
Residency rules aren't about better schools / Daily Southtown 

NATIONAL
Realism needed in 'No Child' act / Rocky Mountain News
Educators call new standards unrealistic / Palm Beach Post
School lunch bill targets obesity / Boston Globe
An education fix / Fort Wayne Journal Gazette
Charter school students move to new campus for sixth time / San Diego Union-Tribune
Pipe Bomb Found, Disabled at Fountain Valley High School / Los Angeles Times
Trustees' business ties examined / Dallas Morning News
Dramatic changes in school funding sought / Las Vegas Sun
School Law an Issue in U.S. House Race
/Education Week
City Mayors Turn to Charter Schools / Education Week
Neighboring states attract Indiana educators / Star Press
Another Way To Learn / Washington Post
Slot backers vow aid to schools / Miami Herald
Student barred from distributing fliers / Boston Globe
Schools challenging state's ratings / Dallas Morning News 

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STATE 

Regional superintendents not sure they'll have jobs

Lisa Smith, Daily Herald  

Clem Mejia and the 44 other regional superintendents across Illinois found their jobs in jeopardy last year via Gov. Rod Blagojevich's proposed budget. 

The governor wanted to dole out their duties to other state agencies and funnel the savings into general school funding. 

Arguing their services are necessary and their offices efficient, the regional superintendents reached a compromise with Blagojevich: the number of regional offices will be slashed in half. 

The regional superintendents will have until May 1 to submit a reorganization plan to the governor dividing the state into 22 regions. Then the regional superintendent representing the largest county in each new region will become the region's superintendent and fiscal agent, overseeing the distribution of all grants and other appropriations. 

The remaining regional superintendents will work with that superintendent on a transitional basis until 2007, when they presumably would step down or take on other duties within the office. 

A Blagojevich spokeswoman said those changes go hand in hand with the governor's restructuring of the Illinois State Board of Education; the governor reduced board members' terms and appointed seven new members. 

"We're trying to put them in the best position to succeed with the school districts," spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch said of the regional superintendents. 

Mejia says he does not view the impending changes negatively. 

"I think every organization needs to be reviewed every so often," he said. "We can't be immune." 

Consolidation was inevitable, Mejia said, noting that each of the state's 102 counties had a regional superintendent until 1973, when it was reduced to 78. It was further reduced to 45 in 1995. 

The state funds the salaries of Mejia and associate regional superintendent Julie Vallejo. Both salaries - $88,540 for Mejia and $79,686 for Vallejo - are based on the region's population and neither has received a raise in two years. 

The Kane County portion of the office's fiscal 2003 budget (which does not include those salaries) was $285,347. The full-time staff consists of 37 employees 

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Students' lunches shouldn't be used as bargaining tool

Column by Ed Wells, Rockford Register Star  

"Cheesegate": Most people have heard about it. Students in the Rockford School District were denied a hot lunch because their government paperwork for a subsidized lunch had not been completed. Instead the students were given a bread-and-cheese sandwich and water. Parents were upset.  

I asked myself, what was the motivation behind "Cheesegate"? What would make it necessary to shame a child with food?

The cost of a school lunch in District 205 increased dramatically this year to close to $3. Mike Williams, a School Board member, commented on a recent Saturday radio broadcast that much of the increase was because of the settlement with the food-service contract workers and administrative costs. The price of a school lunch is now an important source of revenue for the district.  

Parents and guardians who were neglectful and had not filled out the proper forms so the district can receive the lunch reimbursement had to be prodded into action. So the word came down from the district office: Crack down on those kids not properly qualified or whose food accounts had run too low. Shame the kid to motivate the parent.  

It seems with the notoriety of "Cheesegate," the plan worked. Most of the parents who complained will get the necessary paperwork completed so the district can be reimbursed the price of the lunch.  

It should also be said that many of these parents are often behind on many of the forms the district needs. These are chronic, neglectful parents and guardians who are just not doing the job of raising kids. Their numbers are small, but growing. We have to find a way to empower kids with these parents and guardians as much as we can so the school can fill out necessary forms on behalf of the student.  

Yes, the money the district receives from the students' lunches is much more important now. Everyone needs to be paid up. New administrative costs must be paid. But did we really have to embarrass the students? Is the financial situation so bad that we had to withhold hot food and milk from hungry children? Food should never be used as a manipulative tool when it comes to kids. Other means need to be found.  

If there are any other district costs included in the food budget, this should not be. Students should not have to subsidize other district costs not related to food.  

About 60 percent of the district's students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. District 205 is poor. For some kids, the meal they have at school is the only proper one they will have all day. Feeding kids is important. We should be looking for ways to reduce the cost students pay instead of raising it.  

The motivation behind "Cheesegate" was revenue, but I'm afraid that in the end we as a district ended up short-changing our kids.  

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Candidates for state House talk about school spending

Jason King, Daily Herald  

School funding is not the problem facing Illinois schools, according to the candidates for the District 62 seat in the Illinois House of Representatives.  

Both Republican incumbent Robert Churchill and his Democratic challenger, Sharyn Elman, say the problem facing schools in Illinois lies in how school districts spend the money they get.  

Elman said greater local oversight regarding education spending and the end of unfunded mandates is the answer. Churchill also believes the practice of unfunded mandates needs to end and says standardized test scores need to improve to show that schools are making the most with the money they get. 

The candidates spoke about this issue in interviews and in a Daily Herald questionnaire. 

Churchill is a 57-year-old attorney from Lake Villa. He has served in the 62nd District seat since 2003 and previously served in the House from 1983 to 1999, when he made an unsuccessful run for secretary of state. He defeated challenger Fernando Salazar in the Republican primary this spring.  

Elman, 45, is a former broadcast journalist from Gurnee making her first run for public office. She ran nopposed in the primary.

 

The district includes Third Lake plus parts of Gurnee, Lake Villa, the Round Lake area and Grayslake. 

Elman said schools need better checks and balances at the local level to see where money is being spent. Illinois should look at other successful state's education funding mechanisms to see if it can model itself after them. 

The education system also needs to look at reducing some of its bureaucracy at the state level. And if the federal government passes mandates like No Child Left Behind, Washington should fund them. 

Churchill said in the last 20 years, education funding in Illinois has quadrupled. Whether calculated on a gross basis or a per-pupil basis, the increase in funding has vastly outstripped inflation. But test scores have remained flat, he said.  

Churchill said the question that has to be asked is, "If we keep putting more money into education, why aren't test scores and graduation rates improving?"  

Churchill said it's not a question of income anymore, but a question of where the money is going. 

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Growing crisis may trigger changes in school funding

Pantagraph Editorial  

A statewide crisis probably will be needed before Illinois changes the system for financing education. And the state appears to be rapidly approaching such a crisis. 

Some districts are already there. 

Schools are operating with budget deficits in 82 percent of the state's districts, according to figures from the 2003 budget year reported in the Chicago Tribune. 

The situation shows no signs of improving. 

Budgets approved in September by the Normal-based Unit 5 and Bloomington District 87 school boards both showed more expenditures than revenues. 

Unit 5 expects to take in $89.8 million while spending $91.9 million. In District 87, overall expenses are expected to exceed revenues $59.8 million to $52.7 million. 

Those figures can be skewed by construction projects, where revenue from bonds might not come in the same year it is spent. For example, District 87 has $7.7 million in life-safety expenses this school year that will be paid with revenue generated by bonds last year. 

Of course, that can also work the opposite way, helping a budget appear balanced -- or in better shape than it really is. 

School boards need to be fiscally responsible. They can't continue to spend beyond their districts' means while hoping for a bailout from the state or local taxpayers. 

Likewise, the state and federal government can't continue to make demands on local districts without providing adequate financial resources to meet those demands. And Illinois can't continue to rely on a school-financing method that fosters inequities between districts. 

Candidates interviewed by The Pantagraph Editorial Board have repeatedly mentioned education as among the top concerns of voters with whom they have talked on the campaign trail. 

When lawmakers return to Springfield after next month's election, they should do so with a renewed commitment to address school funding to avert a statewide crisis and increase accountability in schools. 

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Schools to get rid of pop at a heavy cost

BY KATE N. GROSSMAN, Sun-Times Education Reporter, 10/28/04 

Come Nov. 15, pop will disappear from Chicago's public schools, along with millions of extra dollars in revenue. 

The school board voted Wednesday to replace Coca-Cola products in school vending machines with juice, water and sports drinks. This shift, announced in April, is part of an effort to tackle the problem of childhood obesity. 

But it comes at a cost. The Coke contract generated $20.8 million over five years, split among the central office and individual schools. The new contract could generate as little as $6.4 million.

That is a conservative estimate, CPS officials say, and they pledge to give the schools the lion's share of the drink cash. Sean Murphy, CPS' chief operating officer, is hopeful schools won't lose money.  

Also Wednesday, the board tightened aspects of its residency policy, which requires all CPS employees hired after 1996 to live in the city, except for those in a few subjects where teachers are short.  

Principal must check on new hires 

Previously, no one was responsible for checking if new hires had moved into the city within six months, as required. A principal or supervisor is now responsible. The board also loosened one element of the policy, giving teachers in shortage areas a three-year, rather than one-year, waiver. 

The tightening did not sit well with the Chicago Teachers Union, which says the rule exacerbates a teacher shortage. Other cities have lifted their residency rules. "In contrast, we have Chicago trying to tighten up this archaic policy," CTU President Marilyn Stewart said in a statement. 

In other news, dozens of protesters rallied outside the board meeting against Renaissance 2010, the plan to close up to 60 schools and re-open them as 100 new ones. 

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Ex-high school student gets $6,250 for injury

Chicago Tribune, 10/28/04   

LAKE COUNTY -- A Lake County jury awarded a former Mundelein High School student $6,250 Wednesday for a knee injury that occurred when she fell in a sewing class 5 years ago. 

While putting away her sewing bin in August 1999, Jami Robins, then 14, tripped over an electrical box mounted on the floor, according to testimony during the three-day trial. Several months later, Robins had knee surgery. 

Robins' medical bills were nearly $12,500, said Robert Cohen, her lawyer. He asked the jury for $33,000 for bills, pain and suffering and disfigurement. 

The jury found Robins 50 percent negligent and Mundelein High School 50 percent negligent, said Associate Circuit Judge Terrence Brady. 

Jon Yambert, a lawyer representing the school, said there were no requirements the school failed to follow. 

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Glenbard North axes student editorial

By Catherine Edman, Daily Herald Staff Writer, 10/28/04  

Glenbard North High School administrators censored a September opinion article in the school's student newspaper, the North Current, criticizing the removal of teacher Peter Giaquinta as the paper's adviser. 

The national Student Press Law Center says it's unclear whether the district's decision is legally defensible under the First Amendment. 

If challenged, administrators would have to prove their decision had an educational basis, and also that they had reason to violate their long history of student newspaper autonomy, said Mark Goodman, executive director of the not-for-profit center in Arlington, Va. 

"It really does boil down to motivation," he said. "If it really is a goal to silence a viewpoint, it is not a justifiable reason." 

In its first issue of the year, North Current Editor in Chief Katie Drews planned to run an editorial criticizing the administration for its role in Giaquinta's departure. He'd been the award-winning paper's adviser on and off for eight years since the early 1990s. 

His dismissal, she argues, revolved around disputes over freedom of speech. 

Drews said the administration waited so long to relay its decision - even after production was delayed a week - that students had no choice but to publish an almost blank page where the editorial would have run.  

What remained was a small cartoon and an explanation about why the article was held. It read, in part: "Assistant Principal of Operations Lisa Biel censored the article because it contained personnel information, even though the former adviser had given his permission to discuss his status." 

Biel admits she pulled the article, but said she did so only because its content was considered legally confidential. 

"It was not a public matter. We wouldn't be able to talk about it," Biel said, adding the article contained errors the administration couldn't correct. "We couldn't comment, particularly in a newspaper." 

Goodman, though, said that argument doesn't hold water, particularly because Drews interviewed Giaquinta, who consented to being quoted in print. If administrators wanted to respond, they, too, could have gotten his permission. 

"There's no invasion of the teacher's rights if the teacher has discussed it with the publication," Goodman said. 

This is the second case of censorship at the newspaper this calendar year. 

Last spring, the paper planned a story to explore the topic of teenage masturbation. The staff's reasoning was that, if the topic was being brought up in mainstream pop culture in movies like "American Pie" and songs like Britney Spears' "Touch of My Hand," it was fair game, Drews said. 

In fact, the staff got the idea from another school newspaper. 

"We were definitely not writing it to spark trouble," the 17-year-old said. 

The administration said "no." 

"We researched it and came to the conclusion that it was not appropriate for the school newspaper," Biel said. "That may remain in the providence of the parents who want to talk about it with their children." 

Biel said the last thing she wants to do is restrict the student newspaper's freedom. 

"These are journalists. I want to look at nothing (in advance), honestly," she said. "There typically is a heads-up over a story. The adviser does that." 

Giaquinta disagrees. He said it was the administration's request for that advance warning on "controversial" articles that started the problems last year. The request undercut the very nature of journalism, he said. 

"That was intolerable to me," he said. "They would not give me any defining parameters for what was controversial." 

The final straw apparently came in the last Current issue in the spring when students wrote about area teens going to a local strip club as a right of passage. 

Giaquinta said that was when the administration told him his contract as adviser would not be renewed. He remains an English teacher, and he teaches the journalism class and newspaper production. 

At issue is the extent of freedom granted school newspapers. 

A landmark case involving school newspaper censorship would seem to support the administration's decision, at first, to stop the articles on masturbation. But it's not that easy, Goodman said. 

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1988 that a Missouri public high school could censor a newspaper that wanted to write about teen pregnancy. School officials had argued it was too sensitive a topic. 

But Goodman said that precedent can be overridden when a newspaper has a long history of editorial autonomy, as does the North Current. Biel admits these are the only two times in the last six years the administration intervened to stop a story. 

The paper has an otherwise solid reputation. Last year, it received the Gallup Award from the Quill and Scroll journalism society, first in state from the Eastern Illinois High School Press Association and the gold medal from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association. 

And last month, Giaquinta was named faculty adviser of the year for northern Illinois and Wisconsin by the Kettle Moraine Press Association. 

Given that Giaquinta said he was told last year student "opinion could be expressed" in the paper, he was surprised when such a piece was axed. 

Drews, similarly, said she was stunned. 

"We thought there's no way they can censor an opinion piece," she said. 

So when the final verdict was delivered, she and other students at the newspaper decided to make sure her original views were made known. 

They made copies of the editorial and distributed them throughout the school by hand. 

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Year-round school is better option

Letter by David Tomell of Geneva, Daily Herald, 10/28/04 

At the risk of confirming my wife's suspicion that I have turned into a curmudgeon, I suggest that voters in the Geneva school district reject the school board's request for more bonds and a higher tax rate until there is year-round classes or two shifts of lessons. 

Make no mistake, public education is a business and the taxpayer is the customer. I think it is time our school district makes more efficient use of the plant and equipment we already own. Twelve-month classes will immediately expand available classrooms by a third; double shifts would increase available desks by 100 percent. I am sure we can hire a couple of smart schedulers to find a class for everyone that is not too inconvenient. 

The school board should be spending its time and efforts working with our legislators at making the state funding policy fairer for our district rather than overseeing construction projects. 

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City’s public high schools to offer college credit in ’05

By CHRIS WETTERICH, State Journal-Register Staff Writer, 10/28/04  

Starting in January, students in the Springfield School District will be able to take classes for college credit at their high school through a new agreement with Lincoln Land Community College. 

The college’s board of trustees approved the agreement at a meeting Wednesday. The credits earned can be used at LLCC or transferred to other colleges and universities. 

Teachers in Springfield’s three public high schools will teach the classes. LLCC must approve the teachers’ credentials and the curriculum used in the classes to make sure it matches curriculum used at the college. 

To qualify to teach the courses, teachers must have a master’s degree or 18 hours of graduate credit in the discipline they are teaching.  

Students also will have to meet prerequisites to enroll in the dual-credit program. To be eligible, students must: 

Be a high school junior or senior. 

Score a 22 or higher on the ACT English test or have a comparable score on the college’s placement test if taking composition courses. 

Score a 22 or higher on the ACT math test or have a comparable score on the placement test if taking math.

Tuition will be waived for classes taught during regular school hours by the district’s teachers.  

The district and the college must still work out the final details for which classes will be offered, but calculus, speech, psychology and composition are likely, said Eileen Tepatti, associate vice president for instruction at LLCC. Other areas could include computer programming, health and science.  

The college already has similar agreements with about 40 other area high schools, including ones in Taylorville, Rochester, Litchfield, Hillsboro and Jacksonville. In those districts, more than 1,500 college credits were earned through LLCC during fall 2003. 

At some high schools that partner with Lincoln Land, students can earn college credit for more specialized, professional courses, including one that trains them to become a certified nursing assistant and one that allows them to earn CISCO certification in computer programming.  

Springfield schools have not previously offered college credit at its high schools, said deputy superintendent Sue Dole.  

“In addition to college cost savings, dual credit eases the transition from high school to college by allowing students to take classes with their friends in their own high schools,” she said. “It also offers our advanced students greater challenges and the opportunity to make their high school years more productive.” 

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Illinois sends $10 million to booming school districts
Plainfield to get almost $2 million

By Stanley Ziemba, Tribune staff reporter, 10/29/04

 

The Illinois State Board of Education has issued $10 million in grants to 44 fast-growing school districts across the state, the largest of which is earmarked for Plainfield School District 202. 

The grants, made under the Fast Growth Grants program signed into law by Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Oct. 8, is designed to help school districts meet the expense of educating rapidly expanding student populations, according to state education officials. 

The Plainfield district in Will County has been issued a check for nearly $2 million under the new program, according to Carla Erdey, the district's director of community relations. The money will be used to help offset the cost of hiring 165 additional teachers, administrators and support staff this year to keep up with the district's ballooning enrollment, Erdey added. 

Over the last 10 years, the district, which has two traditional high schools, an alternative high school, five middle schools, 12 elementary schools and a preschool facility, has seen its enrollment climb from 5,000 to 22,000 students. 

"We're very pleased that the state is providing us with the funds to help us deal with our growth; it's important to have that support," Erdey said. 

Erdey noted that the grant will cover about 25 percent of the $8 million more in wages, salaries and benefits the district has had to budget this year for additional employees. 

The grant is for $1.948 million. 

Other Chicago-area districts receiving substantial grants include Huntley School District 158 in McHenry County, $790,482; Indian Prairie District 204 in western Naperville and far-eastern Aurora, $743,604; Valley View District 365-U in Bolingbrook and Romeoville, $737,695; Oswego District 308 in Kendall County, $734,794; Round Lake District 116 in Lake County, $483,232; and St. Charles District 303 in Kane County, $410,882. 

"School districts seeing rapid enrollment increases need access to dollars to deal with the increased need for books, supplies and teachers," Blagojevich said in a news release issued Tuesday announcing the grants. 

"I signed House Bill 766 to help schools to quickly respond to those needs," he added.

The Fast Growth Grants are part of this year's $389 million increase in funding for targeted education programs approved by Blagojevich and the General Assembly, State Board of Education officials said. 

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Health Center for Urbana schools up and running

By ANNE COOK, Champaign News-Gazette, 10/28/04  

URBANA – Since Urbana's school-based Health Center opened three weeks ago, personnel have helped students all over the district comply with health rules. 

They've helped whittle down the list of students without current inoculations – students banned from their classrooms – from 100 to fewer than 10. And the people who helped turn a wood shop at Urbana High School into a streamlined modern clinic say they're planning to offer new services soon with the help of local agencies and corporate partners. 

"Kraft just announced yesterday that it's giving the clinic $4,000 for a nutrition program," Dave Remmert, director of community health surveillance for the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, told clinic supporters attending an official open house at the clinic Wednesday. "Those programs will help children who are diabetic or overweight," Remmert said. He said within the next few weeks, dentists affiliated with the public health district will also visit the clinic several days a week to see children who need dental care. 

He said patients so far have included walk-ins from schools in the high school and middle school complex and children from Urbana elementary schools brought in by parents. 

Remmert secured grant money to start the clinic more than two years ago, but he said it took a lot more than that grant to complete the project.  

"It wouldn't have been completed without a lot of support from the community," Remmert said. "I was impressed by the number of people motivated by love. This project has a lot to do with that four-letter word." 

He named major contributors including: the public health district, $40,000; Urbana Rotary, $35,000; Carle Foundation, $30,000; Carle Clinic, $17,500; the Champaign-Urbana Mental Health District, $5,000; the Community Foundation of Champaign County, $3,000; and Urbana Alumni, $2,000. 

But Remmert said individuals also made contributions to start the project, a job that included the expense of renovating a former workshop on the north side of the school into a clinic. 

Other partners in the project include Frances Nelson Health Center, Provena Behavior Health and Prairie Center for Substance Abuse. 

Vic Isaksen, longtime district architect who designed the facility, said initially planners faced "a lot of shortage of funds," but when project contractors heard about the plans and the funding issues, they helped by donating more than $100,000 worth of materials and labor. 

Visitors attending the open house Tuesday toured clinic examination and waiting rooms, its laboratory and other facilities. 

"This used to be a big barn of a place, and now it's so efficient," said Joan Dixon, who represented the Community Foundation. "They've used their resources well." 

Dr. Kimberly Glow, clinic director, said she's toured school-based clinics all over the state and is very happy with the results at Urbana. 

"In others, you see kids waiting in the halls," she said. "When I first saw this area, it was a cement square with no walls, and I cried. Not because I was discouraged, but because I was thinking about what could be done with it." 

Glow said she's very encouraged by the enthusiasm of district administrators, of teachers who have visited to see how the clinic will work and also of social workers who are going to help her draw up a policy about how to treat students with attention disabilities. 

"I want this clinic to be for students and run by students," she said.  

"We'll have a student advisory board, we'll have student artwork in the halls and a mural by students in the front." 

Urbana High School junior Hannah Chung designed the clinic's emblem, a tiger holding a shield bearing a red cross and the clinic logo.  

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Aurora U. to open campus to children
Teacher-training facility in works

By Amy Fischer Roth, Special to the Tribune, 10/29/04  

Julia VanKampen attends 4th grade on the Aurora University campus, where she likes having gym class on the "quad" and is looking forward to dissecting owl pellets in the college's science lab. 

"Last year my friend found the skeleton of a rat in a pellet," Julia said. 

She was one of 100 pupils at a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday for the Institute for Collaboration, soon to be a bricks-and-mortar partnership between West Aurora School District 129 and Aurora University. The $14 million facility will provide space for 100 4th and 100 5th graders from two district schools. 

Besides the educational advantages, the district benefits financially from this partnership, which started nine years ago, and a number of others that offer everything from grant money to driver-education vehicles. 

"I think the latest report I saw said that 82 percent of Illinois school districts in 2003 were in a deficit-spending mode," said Neal Ormond, West Aurora school board vice president. "We are not. We have really tried hard to balance the books every year, and we do that by assessing priorities and cutting things as we go. We have cut programs in the last few years to stay within the budget." 

The collaboration with Aurora University and the 4th graders at Freeman Elementary School began when there was a classroom crunch at the school. 

"What we quickly discovered was that we had a remarkable opportunity in front of us to have our students in the teacher-education program become engaged with children almost immediately upon their entry to the university," said Gary Jewel, executive director of the Institute of Collaboration. 

The younger pupils benefit as well for the district's $3 million commitment, said Supt. Sherry Eagle. 

"Our young children gain by having more adults that are committed to and are aspiring to be future educators, and our little children are being teachers to these future educators," she said. 

The new building will add 100 McCleery Elementary 5th graders and have eight classrooms for the two grades. It will house the university's School of Education and other community-based institutions, plus computer laboratories, offices and a 500-seat auditorium.

Ormond said the board hasn't put a specific dollar amount on the savings realized by the partnership but noted that new elementary schools can cost between $6 and $12 million. 

"This is not a cost-free partnership, but we feel it's very cost-effective," he said. 

Last year, the U.S. Department of Education awarded a $10 million grant to expand the partnership so it could serve as a pilot program for the nation, House Speaker Dennis Hastert said at the time of the award. 

Money committed to the project from the district came from the construction budget, which was part of a $59 million bond referendum measure in 2002. 

Other partnerships also help the district's financial picture. 

A deal with the Aurora YMCA provides before- and after- school programs at Greenman Elementary and a fitness center to be built at Herget Middle School, which is under construction, Eagle said. 

The district partners with a Saturn dealership to provide driver-education vehicles and safety instruction to student drivers. The high school cafeteria serves Starbucks coffee and pours the revenues into the Hospitality Academy for Aspiring Food Service Professionals at the school. 

Aurora University also has college students stationed at several West Aurora schools, including the Center for Reading and Language Arts Methods at Fearn Elementary and at the Center for Science and Mathematics Methods at Greenman Elementary, Jewel said. 

""We are literally going to build a P-20 institute--that's preschool through graduate school--where learners of all ages will all go to school together," Jewel said. 

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School Board recommends uniform colors

No saggy pants: Panel reviewing dress code

By Ryan Pagelow, News Sun Staff Writer, 10/29/04  

WAUKEGAN — Students should pull up their pants, keep their hats in their locker and wear uniform colors, according to the Waukegan School Board's recommendations to revamp the District 60 dress code. 

Superintendent Richard Olson asked board members at Tuesday night's meeting to give their recommendations to a committee that recently started meeting to survey how district schools enforce their dress codes and to make suggestions for policy changes. 

"If the board already knows what you want, then there's not a lot of sense to have a committee meet for a month and come back to confuse the issue," Olson said. 

Elementary schools and some middle schools have already enacted policies where students wear uniform colors such as white tops and black pants or skirts. The high school does not require students to wear uniform colors. 

The purpose of having uniform colors would be for safety, said school board Vice President Anita Hanna. 

"I know it's not going to be a popular decision. We're going to get opposition. However, teachers and students have to decide if they want safety or fashion," Hanna said. "When they hear uniform they think ROTC. We're only talking about uniform colors. Don't confuse the issue." 

School Board member June Maguire said she would like to see a dress code that the administration could enforce and that a majority of students would agree to wear. 

"The boys need to wear belts in their pants and not have them hanging down to their butt. It's not safe and it's not good to look at," Maguire said. 

Uniform colors at school are not going to stop the student actions, but it will be a deterrent, said school board member Jeff McBride. 

"Caps that they wear signify who they are. The jerseys they wear signify who they are. It comes down to shoes they wear. It leads to violence," McBride said. 

School Board President Patricia Foley suggested hats be kept in lockers because it's easy to hide gang messages on hats, even if they are just carried and not worn. 

She asked that the committee come to a decision about the dress code policies in a "timely manner" but did not mention when possible changes would be implemented. The board discussed school uniforms last year, but new policies were not introduced after parent and student opposition. 

Board members on Tuesday also voted 5-2 to approve Superintendent Richard Olson's contract extension after a preliminary tie vote led them convene to discuss the matter in closed session. 

Foley said she voted to approve the superintendent's contract extension because for the last two years he has balanced the district's budget and has implemented new programs such as a teachers' academy and mentoring program for new teachers.

Regarding negotiations with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency over Yeoman Creek habitat loss, the school board passed a resolution to not exceed a $35,000 payment in damages if a settlement is reached. 

During public comment Carlos Sanchez, a chairman of a bilingual parents committee, asked the board why parents weren't notified before the bus stop at the corner of Baldwin and Grandville avenues was moved a block to the corner of Frolic and Grandville where there is no sidewalk. 

The move was made after the property owner next to the original bus stop complained students were loitering and vandalizing the property, said Brian Luosa, associate superintendent for business services. 

Also during public comment, Rhonda Buckingham, the mother of a student on the varsity girls basketball team, gave the board a petition signed by parents who would like to remove the team's coach. 

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Small district serves students, town better

Letter by Monty Richards of Bartlett, Daily Herald, 10/29/04 

The Daily Herald has written four front-page articles on the upcoming advisory referendum to consider disconnection from District U-46, yet it failed to highlight the educational or economic benefits of disconnection. The Daily Herald's articles have focused primarily on the costs of disconnection. The Daily Herald and the U-46 board fail to point out all the costs and the educational benefits of a smaller, more manageable district. 

What about the cost of lower opportunities for our children who are undereducated in a failed system? What about the costs of lower tax revenues due to depressed housing prices caused by a beleaguered educational system fraught with continuous fiscal mismanagement? It is time for a change in one of the poorest-performing school districts in Illinois. 

A recent study by Ohio University asserts that smaller districts provide for better education especially for students with lower socioeconomic status. Furthermore, according to another study by the University of California Berkley, smaller school districts produce higher SAT scores. The higher the district enrollment, the lower the achievement. 

Facts are stubborn things. I urge the Daily Herald to research and report these facts, thus providing the voting community a much more balanced and informed view. Our children deserve a better educational opportunity despite the negative anti-change rhetoric from U-46 and others.  

It is time to assert our rights as tax-paying constituents. I urge U-46 parents to vote "yes" on the referendum question and send a loud and clear message to Springfield, our village boards and the inept U-46 board. 

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Residency rules aren't about better schools

Daily Southtown Editorial, 10/29/04  

Mayor Richard Daley is defending his school board's crackdown on residency requirements for public school teachers. "Policemen have to live in the city, firemen. ... Should elected officials live outside the city?" Daley said. 

In our view, policemen and firemen shouldn't have to live in the city any more than teachers should. If that's the best argument the mayor can come up with, the teachers union wins this argument hands down. 

Clearly there's an argument to be made for cops and firefighters having to live near where they work, but that doesn't mean they need to live within the city. Emergency workers sometimes need to get to work quickly when events dictate. But a police officer who lived in Oak Lawn could certainly get to work in the Morgan Park District faster than one who lives on the Northwest Side. 

Residency requirements for city workers have always had more to do with where they vote than where they work.  

As for the mayor's comparison of teachers to elected officials, that's like comparing apples and oranges. Elected officials must live in the city or district they represent so their constituents can have access to them, and so that they have direct knowledge of the area's needs.  

Teachers' jobs are in the classroom, and Chicago schools ought to be hiring the best ones we can get, not the best ones who live (and vote) in Chicago. 

If the schools were a jobs program, then it would make sense to require that teachers live in the city so they would spend their paychecks in the city, support local businesses and cast their votes for city politicians. But if the schools are about educating students, teachers should be hired based on their talents and abilities, not their ZIP codes. 

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 NATIONAL 

Realism needed in 'No Child' act

Current goals out of sight

Rocky Mountain News 

Define success as perfection, and what you get is near-universal failure. 

That seems to sum up the reason why some two dozen Colorado school districts, responsible for educating roughly 80 percent of the children in the state's public schools, failed to meet targets for "adequate yearly progress" under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. 

Setting targets so high they will never be met is likely to discredit the whole enterprise, so reforming the No Child law should be a high priority of the next Congress.

The education act sets a goal of 100 percent proficiency on state tests by 2014, not only overall but for identifiable subgroups, including racial and ethnic minorities, low-income children, English learners and so forth, in every subject. In addition, it requires that schools and districts demonstrate each year that they are raising test scores fast enough to meet the goal. 

The reason for adopting the subgroup goals was to force districts to focus attention on precisely those children most at risk of being left behind. And it is having the desired effect. The Education Trust recently released a study showing that in most states with at least three years' worth of testing data, achievement gaps between ethnic groups have been shrinking while overall achievement has been going up. Not universally, and not fast enough to meet the 2014 deadline, but an encouraging sign of progress nonetheless. 

In Colorado, the achievement gap in reading between white and African-American students narrowed by 5 percentage points, and between white and Hispanic students by 4 percentage points. Only for American Indians did it widen, by 2 points. 

So where's the problem? First off, 100 percent proficiency is not attainable. A high but achievable standard could be based on the performance of the most successful districts. Why not rank all of America's school districts from lowest to highest on the performance of each subgroup, and set the 2014 goal for that subgroup at today's 80th percentile? No one can say "it can't be done" if 3,000 school districts are doing it. Yet bringing the bottom 80 percent of districts up to that level, for every one of those subgroups, would represent enormous progress. And the schools already above that level might be asked to aim for the 90th percentile, or the 98th. 

Another problem is that the larger the district, the more subgroups there are with 30 students or more, enough to trigger the act's requirements. So Cherry Creek, for example, had to meet 118 different subgroup goals last year, and was counted as failing because it met only 94 percent of them. 

"We don't ever expect to make it if certain conditions remain in play," said spokeswoman Tustin Amole of the Cherry Creek district. 

If you get no credit for progress and you know the goal is unattainable anyway, why try? 

It's fair to judge districts on how much progress they're making, but it's also fair to compare them with districts that face similar challenges. That would give districts a reason to find out what's working elsewhere so they can do it too. 

No matter who is elected president, the No Child Left Behind Act will need revision. Otherwise educators will stop taking it seriously.

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Educators call new standards unrealistic

Kimberly Miller, Palm Beach Post  

Florida has the worst record in the nation when it comes to the federal No Child Left Behind Act — just 23 percent of schools met academic standards.  

While the reason for the high failure rate is the arduous benchmarks Florida set for itself, the repercussions of not meeting those standards are the same across the country and about to get worse for the Sunshine State. 

For the first time in three years, Florida's standards to meet No Child Left Behind are rising.  

With 77 percent of the state's schools already unsuccessful in meeting last year's benchmarks, officials warn of across-the-board failures as schools struggle to regain ground from the hurricanes and reach the higher academic levels. 

Each state sets its own guidelines to meet the federal plan, and they can be amended each year.  

More failures under the federal plan mean higher busing costs for districts whose students choose to leave schools labeled as not making "adequate yearly progress" — although those same schools may have an A grade under Gov. Jeb Bush's education reform plan.  

It means more federal dollars going from public schools to private or religious-based tutoring companies that may not have any experience with the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. 

And it means stage four of federal consequences will kick in at some schools — replacement of staff, loss of decision-making ability at the school level, a longer school day or school year, or hiring an outside expert to advise the school. 

Educators watching No Child Left Behind results come in from other states wonder whether Florida shot itself in the foot by setting benchmarks out of reach for the majority of it schools. With 37 of 50 states and the District of Columbia reporting, Florida tied only with Alabama for the highest percentage of schools not meeting standards under the law. 

In Louisiana, 95 percent of schools made adequate yearly progress last year. Eighty percent of Michigan schools met standards. Idaho, 82 percent. Pennsylvania, 81 percent. Tennessee, 94 percent. 

"We are concerned about the inflexible criteria of No Child Left Behind in Florida," David Mosrie, chief executive officer of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said about the state's plan. 

Palm Beach County Superintendent Art Johnson put it more bluntly:  

"I can't jump that high."  

Florida's superintendents are begging Education Commissioner John Winn to rethink the state's No Child Left Behind plan.  

The superintendents want Winn to keep last year's standards, which required 31 percent of students to be reading on grade level and 38 percent to perform math on grade level.  

Those numbers may seem low, but they must be met by each of eight subgroups of students based on race, limited English proficiency and disability. 

Some schools, such as Barton Elementary in Lake Worth, failed under the federal law because just one category of students missed the standards. In Barton's case, its disabled students could not reach the reading benchmark. 

But the law doesn't care about how close schools come to passing, or whether their testing benchmarks are high or low. The law only cares about whether the school passes or not, and Barton — a B-graded school — must now offer its students school choice, meaning they can go to another school with the district footing the bill for transportation. 

Statewide, 963 schools are offering school choice to students because they did not meet No Child Left Behind standards for the second consecutive year. 

This school year, Florida's standards will require 48 percent of students to read on grade level and 53 percent to do math on grade level. Compare that with California, which last year required 12 percent of students to be reading proficiently and 12.8 percent to do math on grade level.  

Also, and more complicated, is the number of students required in each subgroup for the scores to count. The lower the subgroup numbers, which again are set by each state itself, the more likely it is those scores will be counted. 

In Florida, it takes 30 students in a subgroup for scores to count. In California, scores aren't counted unless there are 100 students in a subgroup, or 50 students if they make up 15 percent or more of that school's population.  

Bottom line: It's less likely that scores from minorities, disabled students and non-English speakers will count in California, which had 65 percent of schools passing No Child Left Behind last year, compared with Florida's 23 percent.  

Winn, who has been hesitant to make changes he believes lower Florida's academic standards, announced last week he would allow schools to appeal their state school grades if they feel the hurricanes negatively affected student FCAT scores.  

He did not acquiesce to superintendent requests to change the No Child Left Behind benchmarks.  

"We have two nonnegotiable items — the level of proficiency and the cell size of 30 students," Winn said.  

But he's not totally inflexible, saying he is looking at other possibilities and that the superintendents have some "excellent" ideas.  

Jim Warford, Florida education chancellor for kindergarten through grade 12, said he's not concerned about the higher standards Florida chose for itself, even if it means suffering the consequences in higher proportions than other states.  

"We made the right choice," Warford said. "We negotiated this plan early on, and other states decided to lower their standards. We set our standards high, and our students are the ones benefiting." 

He downplayed the fatalism expressed by superintendents who foresee higher busing costs and more federal dollars going to private tutoring companies if the benchmarks are raised as planned.  

Palm Beach County is already spending $1.48 million this year to bus students under the federal plan — money that could hire 25 additional teachers. Another $2.4 million is expected to go to private tutoring groups.  

"Contrary to what the critics say, there was no massive disruption of schools this year and no massive transfer of students," Warford said. 

If the superintendents get their way and the benchmarks are changed, the new plan will have to be approved by the federal Department of Education — a hurdle the superintendents association's Mosrie said Florida should easily clear.  

"I think the federal government would realize that four catastrophic hurricanes may justify a change," he said. 

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School lunch bill targets obesity

Raja Mishra, Boston Globe 

Massachusetts lawmakers plan this winter to take up one of the nation's most sweeping childhood obesity reduction plans, a measure that would ban soft drinks from schools, mandate low-fat school lunches, and stock school vending machines -- many students' primary food source -- with healthy items only. 

The bill, which also seeks to bolster decimated school physical-education programs by requiring 120 hours per year of in-school physical activity, would for the first time place statewide standards on spotty school food policies. Currently, local school districts have virtual autonomy in setting menus, with some striking lucrative contracts with food and soft drink companies to allow products into cafeterias. 

The state Department of Education has tentatively endorsed the bill, which its sponsors plan to introduce when the Legislature convenes in January, though fierce opposition is expected from local school districts and food and drink companies. Were the bill to pass, localities would lose some control over school menus, as well as money-making deals with food makers, and food and drink companies could lose valued customers -- schools.

In fact, lobbying from both these quarters helped doom previous incarnations of the bill, though widespread recent public concern about diet and obesity may improve the bill's chances this time around, some lawmakers say. Obesity, they say, has replaced smoking as the nation's top health evil. 

"Pretty soon, the lifespan of children will be less than their parents because of obesity," said Representative Peter Koutoujian, a Newton Democrat and the bill's sponsor. "There's not much opposition out there . . . something will pass very soon. There seems to be unanimous support for this." 

A federal panel recently recommended a multipronged national antiobesity effort that would involve virtually every sector of society and major voluntary lifestyle changes by the average American. But within this framework, schools are unique: the only place where food offerings can be directly legislated. With the state able to do little else to affect obesity and childhood weight gain, Koutoujian's bill promises to become the focal point of Massachusetts's debate on obesity, weight loss, and diet. 

The bill would require that: 

 All food available in schools, whether in the cafeteria or vending machines, comply with nutritional standards set by the state Department of Education. 

 All drinks available in schools be water, fruit juices that are 50 percent or more natural juice, or low- or non-fat milk. Soft drinks would be out. 

 All food from vending machines have no more than 35 percent of calories from fat, 10 percent of calories from saturated fat, and 35 percent of calories from sugar. Many chips and candies would be out. 

 Students have access to nutritional information on all food available. 

 Students get 120 hours of physical activity, in a class or recess, each school year.    

Students get 50 hours of nutrition or wellness education annually. 

"I think this is really an important step in the right direction," said Harvard School of Public Health nutrition specialist Dr. Walter Willett. "Kids in school, we're meant to be taking care of their health. That should mean not feeding them things that are bad for them . . . it's hard to imagine anyone could disagree." 

Willett particularly lauded the provision banning soft drinks: "They really don't have any place in schools." 

About 9 million children over 6 years old are obese, triple the prevalence in 1970, according to federal statistics. This greatly increases the likelihood they will be obese in adulthood, placing them at elevated risk for a range of chronic diseases, especially diabetes and heart disease. 

The bill also would shift considerable control over the food served in school cafeterias from localities to the state government. Local districts could still design menus and pick specific items, as long as they conformed to state standards. The state Department of Education would be empowered to periodically revise the standards, as nutrition science evolves. 

"We're very much in favor of it. It sounds like it could make a big difference," said education department spokeswoman Heidi Perlman. 

Perlman said the department is not interested in micromanaging school menus: "We don't want to become the food police," she said. 

But food police is precisely how some districts view the idea of statewide nutrition standards. 

"I think it's better just to let local school committees set the local policies," said Paul Schlichtman, president of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, which represents the local bodies charged with setting local school policy. "I've got real problems when the state comes down and tells you how to do things all the time. . . . Why not legislate what a parent is supposed to feed their child as well?" 

Schlichtman said making the changes called for would cost schools money -- to hire gym teachers, print up nutritional information, replace vending machines, and otherwise conform to the bill's requirements. The bill does not provide any additional funds to make the changes. 

"Unless there's funding, there's going to be problems," said Schlichtman, who said his group would lobby against the bill, as it did a year ago when an earlier version was circulated on Beacon Hill. 

He also said that the ban on soft drinks could deprive hard-pressed school districts of money. Some fear the more healthy items would sell less. 

"Some districts have agreements with bottlers -- they place machines in the building and they get money," said Schlictman. 

These deals are struck locally, and state education officials said they had no way of monitoring them. The other parties in these contracts -- soft drink companies and bottlers -- also plan to oppose the bill, as do food companies, both lobbies wielding arguments similar to the local school districts.  We believe very strongly that it is most appropriate for local school officials and parents to determine what products are appropriate for the students in their area," said Kathleen Dezio, spokeswoman for the American Beverage Association, which lobbies for drink companies such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Minute Maid. She added a personal argument: "I don't want anyone at the state or federal level telling me what my sons should eat and drink." 

Dezio said education was the only route to guarantee that children would eat well. 

"The most effective way to beat this obesity problem is to teach students how to make smart eating choices," she said. But she also cast doubt on assertions that obesity is as severe a problem as health specialists and the federal government argue. 

"Obviously, obesity is a problem . . . but I think we also have to take a good, hard look when people say this is a huge problem," said Dezio. 

Michelle Simon, head of the Center for Informed Food Choices, which monitors food legislation and advocates for healthier school menus, said the Massachusetts proposal was among the most sweeping of the dozens recently introduced in state legislatures around the country. 

"It sounds pretty comprehensive, in that it applies to all foods sold in school," she said. 

In June, the Boston School Committee passed a measure banning unhealthy foods from school vending machines, and many other districts are considering similar actions. 

Thus far, said Simon, most school menu reform has occurred at the city level, in places such as Chicago, Seattle, and Los Angeles, because "at the state level it's more challenging because the food lobby is better at organizing against state legislation," she said. 

But Koutoujian, who has pushed antiobesity legislation for six years, mostly unsuccessfully, said he is undeterred by the opposition. 

"People don't trust what they say," he said of food companies. 

Koutoujian has become well known on Beacon Hill for his healthy-eating crusade, and colleagues sometimes ask the tall and trim lawmaker if he had a chubby childhood. 

"I wasn't an overweight child. I didn't suffer socially or physically or academically as many of our overweight children do," he said. "You don't have to be obese or suffer from this to understand this. You just have to care about public health." 

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An education fix

Fort Wayne Journal Gazette 

Somewhere between sound education policy and politics lies reality. That’s what students, educators and parents are facing in terms of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. After Nov.2, the balance should tip from partisanship to a law that better helps students succeed. 

Reginald Felton, director of federal relations for the National School Boards Association, was in Fort Wayne last week to talk with school officials and community members about the effects of No Child Left Behind and changes needed in the sweeping accountability law. 

“No one can argue with the goals of the law,” Felton said. “But the devil’s in the details.” 

His association is part of a national coalition of education, civil rights, children’s and disability groups that have jointly called for major revisions. 

“Overall, the law’s emphasis needs to shift from applying sanctions for failing to raise test scores to holding states and localities accountable for making the systemic changes that improve student achievement,” the coalition’s statement reads. 

Local superintendents met with Rep. Mark Souder several months ago to plead for changes in the law. 

But Souder insisted he would not accept changes in requiring schools to demand high standards. 

Felton said that’s the public response members of Congress have been giving. Privately, both Democrats and Republicans have been telling NSBA that they didn’t understand what the law entailed. Felton said he believes they will hold hearings after the election to consider reasonable changes to the law. 

Suellen Reed, Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction, also hopes to see changes. One in particular addresses interpretation of the law. In determining which schools are subject to sanctions for not meeting improvement goals under the law, Indiana is counting only schools that receive additional federal money under the TitleI program. The U.S. Department of Education has warned the state that it must, effective next year, count all schools. 

Reed said her department believes its interpretation of the law is correct. She rightly noted that extending the sanctions to all schools would diminish the resources available to the TitleI schools. 

The state superintendent supports other changes in No Child Left Behind, particularly its requirements in testing special education students, and also in the resources allocated for students learning English as a second language. 

Where Reed parts company with Felton and NSBA is on methods for bringing about the changes. She said the Council of Chief State School Officers wants to negotiate the changes with the U.S. Department of Education. 

“You lose the ability to work with them if you just criticize the law,” Reed said. 

If President Bush wins a convincing re-election, that might be the case. Otherwise, the best approach is a congressional fix, which Felton persuasively rgues will happen regardless of the outcome Nov.2. 

When the changes are considered, first and foremost must be the obligation to fully pay for No Child Left Behind. Besides falling short on appropriating the amount envisioned when the bill was signed, more money is needed to help schools pay for the data collection required by the law. 

Federal intervention in local schools grew to an unprecedented level when the law went into effect. With that intervention comes a responsibility to put federal dollars behind the demands and to ensure those demands are reasonable. Anything else will only harm the very students No Child Left Behind is supposed to help. 

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Charter school students move to new campus for sixth time

By Adam Klawonn, San Diego Union-Tribune Staff Writer, 10/23/04  

VISTA – A group of 230 charter school students has relocated six times in 18 months, this time landing at a church and a community club after city officials closed their previous campus.  

Vista fire and building officials shut down Eagles Peak charter school last month for safety concerns.  

All students are now at the Boys & Girls Club of Vista under a $2,500-a-month lease through mid-June.  

First Lutheran Church board members this week unanimously approved a similar month-to-month lease for the school, which moves kindergarten through fourth-grade students from the club to the church Monday.  

The recent leases show progress despite a series of setbacks that began in spring, school officials said.  

"Things happen," said Principal Alma Van Nice, "but if you use the obstacles as steppingstones to higher ground, you get through it."  

A series of relocations has shuffled Eagles Peak students to two churches, Girls Inc., the Boys & Girls Club, a commercial site on California Avenue and Green Oak Ranch.  

Classes began in the commercial building Sept. 7 but ended less than three weeks later when the city received a safety complaint.  

Inspectors found that evacuation routes weren't wide enough and served school officials with eviction papers.  

That led to a two-week stay at Green Oak Ranch, a 142-acre site used mainly for drug-and-alcohol treatment programs.  

Students were bused in daily, attended classes indoors and went on outdoor nature walks.  

School officials, meanwhile, searched for another site at which zoning restrictions allowed for an educational setting for children. When the deadline came to leave Green Oak, they had regrouped at the Boys & Girls Club.  

Challenges for teachers and students remain. Teachers carry their classroom supplies around in a box, setting up and breaking down their materials each day to share space with those who use the club for recreation.  

Arts and crafts classes, for example, must clean up and make room for an afternoon baton-twirling class run by the club.  

Elisabeth Andrues, 25, an Eagles Peak third-and fourth-grade teacher, admits her classroom's gymnasium setting has been a challenge for students.  

"It's hard to focus their attention when they don't have the normal walls," she said.  

But Andrues, who started at the school in August, remained upbeat and said the experience has made her a better teacher.  

"I've learned this, though: It's not the classroom that makes the education. It's me," she said.  

The challenges for many Eagles Peak students began in August 2001, when they attended Vista Literacy Academy, a now-defunct school whose charter was overseen by Vista Unified.  

Facility issues hounded the academy from the start. During its short existence, the academy operated out of Brengle Terrace Park, held classes in a church and built portables in a Vail Terrace Drive parking lot.  

By December 2002, political and financial pressures had mounted for the school, and Vista Unified trustees eventually revoked its charter. It left parents and students – most of them English learners – in the lurch.  

They found Eagles Peak, a charter school organization that has been around since 2000. It has roughly 3,000 students doing independent study in Imperial, Orange, Riverside and San Diego counties.  

The dual-immersion program, where kids learn in English and Spanish, has been around for 18 months in Vista, and it is Eagles Peak's only program with its own site, said Kathleen Hermsmeyer, its executive director.  

Julian Union High School District oversees its charter.  

For a more permanent home, Hermsmeyer said she is working with an architect to develop a site near Sunset and Melrose drives on unincorporated property outside Vista, among other alternatives.  

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Pipe Bomb Found, Disabled at Fountain Valley High School / Los Angeles Times

By Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, 10/23/04 

A pipe bomb was discovered and dismantled Friday afternoon in the gymnasium of Fountain Valley High School, authorities said. 

Police and fire squads responded to reports of a small fire in the boys' locker room at the school shortly after 3:30 p.m., said police Sgt. Kevin Thomas. Firefighters opened a smoking locker and found two small fires and a metal pipe with a cap on one end, Thomas said. It appears that the fires were intended to ignite the apparent pipe bomb, he said. 

Hundreds of students participating in after-school activities were evacuated as members of the Orange County sheriff's bomb squad entered the locker room. After more than an hour, they determined that the device was a pipe bomb and disabled it.  

School officials turned down requests for comment, and Thomas declined to provide details on the bomb. No one had been arrested or was being questioned, he said.  

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Trustees' business ties examined

As some push to make deals illegal, others say districts should decide

By SCOTT PARKS, The Dallas Morning News, 10/26/04

Houston school district trustee Lawrence Marshall once earned $6,000 a month consulting for a company that held a multimillion-dollar contract in the district. It was completely legal.  

Mr. Marshall says he resigned his consultancy with Community Education Partners in February. But he played two roles simultaneously for five years – elected school board member and paid employee of the company.  

Under Texas law, all he had to do is publicly disclose his financial interest in the company and abstain from any school board vote pertaining to the company.  

"All of my work for them was external to HISD," he said. "Most of the work was in other states. And I never discussed CEP business with my fellow board members."  

A Dallas Morning News examination of school district records and a review of more than 80 school district audits show that Mr. Marshall is not alone among the 7,500 elected school board members in Texas.  

Bankers serve as trustees in districts that deposit funds in their banks. Architects serve in districts that use their firms to design schools. Construction company owners help govern districts that use their companies to build schools.  

"There is clear evidence that board members are benefiting from these contracts," said Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who started out in politics on the Austin school board.  

"We have no way of knowing precisely, but our best estimate is that an average of between one and two members of every board have conflicts."  

If her estimate is anywhere close, more than 1,000 trustees in 1,045 school districts have financial ties to companies that sell to their districts.  

Ms. Strayhorn says districts should be prohibited from contracting with those companies.  

"This is about educating our children and not cashing in on them," she said.  

The Texas Association of School Boards, which is active in legislative affairs in Austin, disputes Ms. Strayhorn's assessment that conflicts among board members are pervasive enough to require tightening of ethics laws.  

Essentially, the association supports current laws that require Texas board members to publicly disclose their financial conflicts of interest in writing and file those statements with the school district's central office.  

They also must disclose a close relative's connection to companies that do business with their districts. Then, the board member must abstain from voting on matters pertaining to those companies.  

Even so, Texas law does not prohibit school board members from having one-on-one discussions about upcoming agenda items. This means a board member can follow the disclosure/abstention requirements and still line up fellow trustees' support for a contract in which he or she has a financial interest.  

Search for a fair law  

Cathy Douglass, a TASB attorney and lobbyist, uses the following example to illustrate her misgivings about prohibition:  

A school board member's daughter works at a big computer manufacturer outside Austin. Under current law, the board member discloses her daughter's financial interest in the company and abstains from voting on any contract involving the company. Under prohibition, there are three options: the school board member resigns her seat; the daughter resigns her job; or the school district doesn't buy anything from the company.  

"School board members are public servants, and they must earn a living, and their families must earn a living," Ms. Douglass said.  

The problem, according to legal experts, is how to write an ethics law that casts a net that snares bad people and lets good people go.  

Last year, the Legislature sided with TASB. A Strayhorn-backed bill that would have prohibited serious financial dealings between a school district and trustee-connected company passed the House but died in the Senate.  

State Sen. Florence Shapiro, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said Texas follows a policy of allowing "local control" for school districts instead of passing a lot of statewide laws.  

"We usually only violate that rule to correct a problem that's prevalent in school districts," she said. "I don't think anyone knows whether these problems are prevalent enough to take away local control."  

The issue resurfaced in Houston ISD last month when trustees passed what appears to be the most stringent conflict-of-interest policy in Texas. It includes the kind of prohibition that the Legislature rejected.  

Mr. Marshall, 72, a grandfather and retired Houston ISD administrator, says he has changed how he does business. During his five years on the school board, he has worked as a paid consultant for Community Education Partners and three other companies that market to HISD. Now, he says, that kind of work is over because of the new board prohibition.  

"I follow the law to a T," Mr. Marshall said. "But the public doesn't understand conflict-of-interest laws. I always talked to people who thought I was in violation of something. So, now our intent is to have a prohibition. I take a hit. That's fine. I'll start anew."  

The HISD prohibition does not apply to companies traded on stock exchanges or over the counter.  

This means HISD could still do business with Bank of America, whose shares are publicly traded, even if a school board member or a close relative is a Bank of America executive. But the district couldn't contract with a small, privately held firm – a partnership of architects, for example – if a board member is associated with that company.  

The new policy also does not include charities, churches or governmental institutions on the list of "business entities" that could be prohibited from contracting with HISD.  

Texas law is much less restrictive.  

Instead of prohibition, lawmakers have adopted the public disclosure and abstention model. It applies to board members with a "substantial interest" in a company that does business in their district. The law also applies to board members who have a close relative (by blood or marriage) with a substantial interest in such a company.  

Texas law defines "substantial interest" as a board member owning 10 percent or more of the company's voting stock, or 10 percent or more of the company's fair market value, or earning 10 percent of his gross annual income from the company.  

Tom Hutton, staff attorney at the National Association of School Boards, says he has never seen a national survey that shows how the 50 states handle conflict-of-interest laws for board members.  

'We sign our forms'  

Dawn Thompson-Fisher, a legal assistant, is a trustee in Galena Park ISD near Houston. She provides another example of a Texas school board member who must report a conflict of interest under the law.  

Dexter D. Joyner, the attorney who employs Ms. Fisher, holds the contract to collect delinquent property taxes for Galena Park schools.  

State records show that Mr. Joyner's firm earned more than $650,000 in legal fees from Galena Park between 1999 and 2002. Ms. Fisher worked for Mr. Joyner during those years and continued working for him after she got elected to the school board in 2002.

Ms. Fisher is a former City Council member and a well-known political figure in Galena Park. Like other Texas school trustees, she functions as an unpaid elected official. She spends time preparing for meetings, going to meetings and attending state-mandated training sessions for school board members.  

Ms. Fisher says she goes beyond the requirements of state law to avoid the appearance of a conflict.  

"The only thing that comes up is [Mr. Joyner's contract with the school district], and I don't vote on that at all," she said.  

Ms. Fisher said she does not participate if Mr. Joyner's legal business comes up for discussion among board members or district staff.  

"I don't talk about it," she said.  

In March 2003, the Texas comptroller's office, led by Ms. Strayhorn, released its Texas School Performance Review on Galena Park ISD. The report said Ms. Fisher and three other trustees had financial interests in companies that do business with the school district.  

After reviewing district records, the comptroller's office concluded that four companies with ties to trustees collected $1.5 million in fees from Galena Park ISD during a three-year period.  

The report said the four trustees had complied with state laws by filing the required financial disclosure affidavits and abstaining from school board votes concerning the companies in question.  

"We sign our forms and we abstain," Ms. Fisher said.  

Nonetheless, the comptroller's report said members of the public had expressed concern about board members' ties to school district vendors.  

"Whether the allegations are founded or not, the perception among the community is that some board members may be making biased business decisions for the district," the report concluded.  

Severing ties  

Mr. Marshall, the Houston ISD trustee, said he zealously kept his business relationship with Community Education Partners separate from his role as a school board member.  

The company was already contracting with HISD when Mr. Marshall came on the board in 1998. The company hired him, he said, because of his background in school administration. They paid him $1,500 a day. His initial contract with the company called for him to work four days a month.  

During his five years on the Houston board, Mr. Marshall also worked for People First, a health care network that was seeking business in HISD. People First once paid him $2,000 a month, he said.  

Mr. Marshall said he has severed his financial ties with school district vendors. But he said he might go back to work for them if the school board ultimately decides that its current prohibition is too restrictive.  

"To thine ownself be true," Mr. Marshall said.  

"I believe officeholders have to subscribe to the fact that if we didn't have government, society would be chaos. There are times when we have to deal with regulation, and I think the regulations should give the appearance to the public that we are above and beyond reproach."  

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Dramatic changes in school funding sought

By Cy Ryan, SUN CAPITAL BUREAU, 10/25/04 

CARSON CITY -- The deadlock over raising taxes in the 2003 Legislature has spawned two ballot questions that could change the way the state funds its schools. 

Proponents say both are designed to ensure schools get the money they need, but they come from opposite ends of the political spectrum. 

Question 1 would require the Legislature to pass a school funding bill before it approves any other appropriations for the coming two years. It comes from the fiscally conservative politician who 10 years ago pushed for a constitutional amendment to require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to pass a tax increase. 

Question 2 would require the Legislature, beginning in 2012, to fund schools at the national per-student average. It comes from the teachers union, which has been pushing the past decade to raise taxes to better fund education. 

The questions, if passed by the voters this election, would appear on the 2006 general election ballot for approval before becoming part of the Nevada Constitution. 

Both arose out of frustration with the way the 2003 Legislature dealt with funding for public schools, which was imperiled during the fight over raising taxes. 

Gov. Kenny Guinn had proposed a plan to create broad-based taxes to provide more stable funding for state services, including public schools, which took 34.7 percent of the budget in the current biennium. 

The governor's plan created rancor among legislators, who needed two special sessions to come up with an alternative plan to raise $833.5 million in taxes during two years and balance the biennial budget. Several times legislators came one vote short of the two-thirds majority required to raise taxes. 

All of the state's budget except school funding had been passed before the special sessions. Because of a constitutional requirement that the state keep a balanced budget, the schools could not receive funding until the tax package was passed. 

The delay until August in passing the tax package, and the school budget with it, created havoc in the state's public school systems, which were delayed in hiring their staffs for the fall semester. 

The idea for Question 1 came from U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons, a Reno Republican and a former member of the Assembly, who in 1994 and 1996 pushed for the constitutional amendment that required the two-thirds vote to raise taxes. 

Gibbons and his wife, Assemblywoman Dawn Gibbons, R-Reno, led a drive to gather signatures on the initiative to qualify it for the ballot. 

Responding to the same school-funding crisis, the Nevada State Education Association is trying a different tactic with Question 2. 

The ballot question says, "Shall the Nevada Constitution be amended to require that the annual per-pupil expenditure for Nevada's public elementary and secondary schools equals or exceeds the national average?" 

The state is now 45th in the nation in funding the public schools, at $4,424, or $1,655 per pupil below the national average, Cahill said. The average per-pupil expenditure is $6,079, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. 

Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, introduced a bill in 2003 to raise the state's spending to the national average. That was estimated to cost $1.1 billion over the biennium. The bill never made it out of committee.

In 1990 the teachers circulated a petition to enact a corporate net profit tax. It qualified for the ballot, but the teachers backed off the proposal when state leaders agreed to enact a business tax. The 1991 Legislature approved the per-employee tax of $100 per year. 

The union then sought to enact a 4 percent business income tax for the support of education. But the Nevada Supreme Court last year ruled the proposed law was unconstitutional. 

Question 2 takes a different approach. Crafted by the teachers' union, it doesn't bother with trying to propose the appropriate tax to fund schools. It simply sets the funding level, and leaves it up to lawmakers to find the money. 

The fact that the funding requirement wouldn't take effect until 2012 gives the state enough time to do that, Cahill said. In a year with a surplus, for example, part of that money could be allocated to education to avoid a future tax increase. 

In addition, she said, the public schools should be able to keep all of the money earmarked for them from the state sales tax. The school districts, however, do not see a windfall if the tax collections are higher than expected. That extra money is kept by the state. 

In the current biennium, Cahill said, the group estimates the state will get $50 million in sales tax money that should have gone to schools. In the past 10 years $131 million has gone back to the schools, she said. 

Carole Vilardo, executive director of the Nevada Taxpayer Association, which opposes Question 2, said it was "totally impractical to shift money" the way Cahill described. Ninety-two percent of the state's budget goes to the public schools, the university, human resources and prisons, she said. 

That leaves only 8 percent, meaning the teachers' plan would require a tax increase, Vilardo said. 

Jim Gibbons said he does not support Question 2 because it does not identify a way to pay for the increased funding that it would require. 

"I think that while teachers deserve more, there are alternatives to providing that money," Gibbons said. 

The congressman has proposed a plan that would change the distribution of money from Bureau of Land Management land auctions to provide more money to public schools. The Southern Nevada Public Lands Act currently earmarks 5 percent of the proceeds for schools; Gibbons wants it to be 35 percent. 

But requiring schools to be funded at the national average without setting up a system to pay for it in advance is a bad idea, he said. 

The education association has not taken a stand on Question 1, Debbie Cahill, its deputy executive director, said. 

"It doesn't do anything to address the level of spending," Cahill said. "We've been fighting a nonstop battle with the Legislature about the levels of funding. 

"It was more about the two-thirds vote than about funding education." 

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School Law an Issue in U.S. House Race

New Mexico Republican Defends 'No Child' Plan

By Erik W. Robelen, Albuquerque, N.M.  

The flames keeping hundreds of vibrantly colored hot-air balloons aloft for the fall balloon fiesta here were doused by the time the two candidates for the local congressional seat debated in a hotel ballroom earlier this month. But the sparks—and maybe even a little of the hot air—were still in plentiful supply.  

“I look forward to talking with you about jobs, about our schools, and about how we’re going to win this war on terrorism,” said U.S. Rep. Heather A. Wilson, the Republican incumbent in New Mexico’s 1st District. But in her opening remarks, she also had another goal: taking aim at her Democratic challenger, Richard M. Romero, the state Senate president and a former longtime educator.  

“Mr. Romero took American politics to a new low last week with propaganda linking me to a man who murdered 3,000 people,” she said at the Oct. 11 event.  

The Romero campaign has run a TV spot that flashes the image of Osama bin Laden and claims Ms. Wilson did a “favor to terrorists” in voting against one airline-security measure.  

“We all know that you don’t leave common sense at the door when you go to Washington, D.C.,” Mr. Romero shot back. “It makes all the sense in the world to screen cargo on all of our airlines.”  

Not to be outdone, a recent spot by a national GOP group said Mr. Romero “is so liberal on crime he’s dangerous.” 

Like many tight races leading up to the elections next week, the contest here for the U.S. House of Representatives has gotten pretty rough, and talk of schools has had to vie with still-stark post-9/11 worries about security and other high-profile issues.  

The Albuquerque-area contest offers a good window, though, on where education ranks in the minds of voters, and on how the No Child Left Behind Act, a sweeping, bipartisan rewrite of federal K-12 policy, and other school issues are faring in campaigns for Congress.  

Education seemed pretty important to the Rotary Club of Albuquerque, which hosted the Oct. 11 debate at the Old Town Sheraton hotel, nestled near a touristy section of the city.  

The second of only six debate questions was on the No Child Left Behind law, the centerpiece of President Bush’s agenda for schools.  

Ms. Wilson strongly supports the law; Mr. Romero says it needs major changes.  

“I’d rank [education] as number-one in my viewpoint,” said Sam Fenner, an undecided independent, standing in the elaborately decorated hotel lobby, shortly before the debate started.  

Mr. Fenner, who has four children, including one still attending a local public school, added: “We rank so low nationally in terms of educational funding, how our kids rank on a national scale, and I think we need to give more attention to that.”  

This desert state falls behind most states by several measures. New Mexico is one of the lowest-performing states on key national tests for 4th and 8th graders. Teacher salaries are near the bottom nationally. Recent data on average spending per student placed it 36th out of the 50 states. And it has wide spending disparities between school systems.  

Despite their differences, both Rep. Wilson and Mr. Romero agree that Congress is a vital player in helping the state’s schools, especially its disadvantaged children.  

A Battleground State  

The race for New Mexico’s 1st District is one of only about 30 competitive House races this year. The chamber is expected to stay in Republican control, while the Democrats have somewhat better prospects in the Senate.  

As with the presidential election, the biggest issues in congressional races have been the war in Iraq, terrorism, the economy, and health care. Those emphases come as little surprise, based on recent polls. For instance, education came in sixth place in a mid-October poll by the Winston Group, a Republican firm in Alexandria, Va., when respondents were asked to name the “most important” issue in voting for Congress.  

But candidates are still discussing education. Both Ms. Wilson and Mr. Romero have run TV ads touting their records and experience on the issue.  

This is Mr. Romero’s second stab at the 1st District seat, which represents a swath of central New Mexico anchored by Albuquerque, a city on the upper Rio Grande River in the shadow of the towering Sandia Mountains. The metropolitan area, with a population of about 750,000, is mostly a blend of Hispanics and whites, with a smaller number of American Indians. The district leans Democratic, though Republicans have held the House seat here for more than three decades.  

Mr. Romero, 60, was a teacher, principal, and assistant superintendent for 27 years in the 90,000-student Albuquerque public schools. He lost to Ms. Wilson two years ago, 55 percent to 45 percent. He’s been a member of the New Mexico Senate for 12 years and its president since 1991.

 

In the Senate, he played an influential role in passing a plan to raise teacher salaries based on experience, using a new, three-tiered system. He also championed a bill that gave collective bargaining rights to teachers and other public employees, and he helped enact an increase in the portion of a state permanent fund that goes to schools.  

Ms. Wilson, 43, who first won her seat in Congress in a 1998 special election, has a background heavy on military and foreign affairs. She served in the U.S. Air Force for about a decade and was on the National Security Council staff under President George H.W. Bush.  

But she gained experience with children’s issues as the secretary of New Mexico’s children, youth, and families agency from 1995 to 1998. While never an educator, she was a finalist for superintendent of the Albuquerque public schools in the early 1990s.

In Congress, Ms. Wilson doesn’t serve on the education committee, but she has been fairly active on school matters. During the 108th Congress, she has introduced bills to improve math and science instruction, support arts in the schools, and provide tax credits for teachers and principals in low-income schools, though none of those measures passed.  

A poll of 369 likely voters conducted in early October for the Albuquerque Journal found that voters were almost evenly divided between the two candidates, with Ms. Wilson at 45 percent and Mr. Romero at 44 percent. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus five percentage points.  

National Democratic and Republican groups have provided substantial money and other support for the campaigns.  

Since New Mexico is a presidential battleground, it’s gotten a lot of attention from President Bush and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts. The same day as the Oct. 11 Romero-Wilson debate, both presidential candidates visited the Land of Enchantment.  

The night before, Mr. Romero joined Sen. Kerry for a rally in Albuquerque.  

“We’ve got to improve our schools; we’ve got to improve health care,” Mr. Romero told some 500 people gathered in an airplane hanger. “We’ve got to [reduce] the deficit. We’ve got to get our troops out of Iraq.”  

The Party Line 

President Bush didn’t stop in Albuquerque during his Oct. 11 visit to the state, but two weeks earlier, first lady Laura Bush showed up to raise money for the Wilson campaign.  

“Heather has spent her time in Washington working on issues that matter to the families and workers of New Mexico,” Mrs. Bush said on Sept. 29, according to a White House transcript.  

Mr. Romero contends that Rep. Wilson is a rubber stamp for President Bush and GOP leaders in the House, though she emphasizes her independence.  

The Romero message seems to resonate with some voters.  

“She is too much the Republican hack,” said Richard Desjardins, a retired builder and self-described liberal having breakfast at the Flying Star, a popular cafe near the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. “She follows the party line.”  

That’s not to say he finds Mr. Romero very inspiring.  

“He’s not Heather Wilson,” Mr. Desjardins said to sum up his support for the challenger. “This is an ‘anyone but’ year.”  

Maggie Peterson, a homemaker from Albuquerque, first cited education to explain her support for Rep. Wilson.  

“I think she’s good with education,” said Ms. Peterson, who has two children she switched from public to private schools several years ago. “That’s the reason she went into public service. At least that’s what she said.”  

A Republican, Ms. Peterson suggested that Democrats like Mr. Romero are beholden to the teachers unions. He is backed by the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

“You never hear Democratic candidates speaking out against the unions,” Ms. Peterson said.  

Fred C. Martinez, an Albuquerque lawyer and lifelong Democrat, said he’s pleased that Mr. Romero is a former educator.  

“He would know that Leave No Child Behind better than anybody else,” he said. “Friends of mine who are in education tell me that it has a nice name, but that it doesn’t have that same effect.”  

The No Child Left Behind Act is a clear dividing line for the two candidates.

In the Oct. 11 debate, they were asked whether the law, which aims to hold schools accountable for raising student achievement, was benefitting New Mexico.  

“My answer is no,” Mr. Romero said. “And I’m speaking as an educator.”  

Mr. Romero argued that Congress hasn’t provided adequate funding for the law, and that it needs changes—criticisms echoed by other Democratic candidates this year. In an earlier interview with Education Week, he said he would alter the law’s assessment and accountability measures.  

“Measurement should be an indicator of how we’re doing, but it shouldn’t be used to blast a school and give it a bad label,” he said.  

Ms. Wilson disagrees about the law.  

“The No Child Left Behind Act increases funding,” she said during the debate. “It also gives unprecedented flexibility to schools and principals and parents to make decisions about how that money is used. The other thing that it does is have accountability to parents and communities.”  

In a later interview, the congresswoman said there’s been some confusion about the law. “We’ve worked with both the state and Albuquerque public schools to take advantage of the flexibility that does exist,” she said.  

‘My Own Party’ Disagrees  

A recent TV commercial by the Wilson campaign stressed the rapid growth in education spending over the past few years, with the narrator noting that Ms. Wilson “even fought her own party leadership to increase funding for disadvantaged schools.”  

Ms. Wilson offers that stance to rebut the Romero charge that she always votes the party line.  

“I am the only Republican in the House who has voted against the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education [spending] bill for the last two years because it wasn’t adequate for education,” she said in the interview. “People within my own party disagree with me.”  

The fiscal 2005 spending bill passed the House last month 388-13, though many Democrats claimed it underfunded education and other programs. All 13 no votes came from Republicans.  

Larry J. Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, suggests her vote may not have been as politically courageous as it might seem.  

“She’s in a competitive district,” he reasoned. “Of course, they’re going to give free votes to members as needed,” he said, referring to GOP leaders. “They didn’t need her vote.”  

On some tight education votes, Rep. Wilson has taken the party line. She backed her leadership earlier this year on a 209-208 vote creating a pilot private school voucher program in the District of Columbia. She also supported a 2003 bill to overhaul the Head Start program that passed the House by a single vote but hasn’t become law.  

The Romero campaign, meanwhile, has run a TV ad to promote the Democrat’s education background and proposals.  

Mr. Romero has a plan “for real accountability in our schools,” the narrator intones, and to reduce the dropout rate, provide college scholarships, and fight for higher teachers salaries.  

“We need to pay teachers like they have the most important job in the world,” Mr. Romero says in the ad. “Because they do.”  

Despite such ads, Charles Bowyer, a lobbyist for the NEA’s New Mexico affiliate, said he sees less talk of education this time around in the House race here.  

“Regrettably, education has not taken the primary role that it did two and four years ago in the campaign,” he said, citing issues such as national security and the economy. “That’s understandable.”

Whether or not education proves to be a deciding factor, at least some local voters from both major political parties see the federal government as highly relevant to schools.  

“I like the No Child Left Behind Act,” said Dave Goodnight, a minister who also works at a local homeless shelter that Rep. Wilson toured the day after the debate.  

Mr. Goodnight, who calls himself very conservative, said he has a child who “gets a great education” at a public school in Albuquerque. But, he said, “so many kids are just pushed through [the system]. I think the federal government needs to take a stand.”  

Joe Baca, a Democrat leaning toward Mr. Romero, said Washington has an obligation to schools.  

“The schools need a lot more help,” said Mr. Baca, a truck driver with two children in public schools while lunching at Barelas Coffee House, near downtown Albuquerque. “Getting after-school programs and stuff like that.”  

“Schooling,” he said, “should be the number-one priority for everyone.”  

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City Mayors Turn to Charter Schools

By Caroline Hendrie, Washington, 10/27/04 

With pigeons fluttering through the rafters and plaster crumbling from the walls, the future home of the Thurgood Marshall Academy charter school scarcely looks like a place to entertain the likes of a big-city mayor.  

Yet District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams seemed happy to be there earlier this month, as he helped kick off a project to convert the long-vacant eyesore into a community-oriented campus for 350 high school students.  

Mr. Williams is not alone among big-city mayors in extending a growing interest in public education to charter schools. In Indianapolis, Bart Peterson has taken full advantage of his status as the nation’s only mayor with authority to charter schools. And New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Chicago’s Richard M. Daley, both of whom control their school systems, have recently launched initiatives to form more of the independently run but publicly financed schools.  

Still, Washington is unusual in the extent to which charter schools here are starting to be billed as a strategy for revitalizing residential neighborhoods and making the city more attractive to middle-class parents.  

Mr. Williams, who has headed the nation’s capital since 1999, has set a goal of attracting 100,000 new residents to the city over the next decade—particularly middle-income families with children. And despite strong criticism from some backers of Washington’s regular public schools, he’s made it clear that he sees charter schools as an important tool for achieving that goal.  

“Mayors realize you have to fix urban public schools if you’re going to have any sort of comprehensive urban renewal,” said Andrew J. Rotherham, the director of education policy at the Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington research organization aligned with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. “You simply cannot do that without drawing the middle class back into the cities, and to do that you need to have good public schools for them to send their kids to.”  

At this month’s groundbreaking ceremony for the Thurgood Marshall Academy, Mayor Williams ticked off a list of redevelopment projects planned for the neighborhood. But he said those investments would amount to little without good public education—including charter schools.  

“It’s really education that’s going to take us over the goal line,” he said at the Oct. 5 ceremony at the 103-year-old former elementary school.  

Giving Up?  

With an estimated 16,000 charter students this year, Washington has among the nation’s highest proportion of public school students in charter schools—around one in five. While many charter schools serve high proportions of students from low-income families, a few have attracted sizable numbers of youngsters from more affluent households.  

To build on that trend, Mayor Williams recently joined forces with a fellow Democrat, Sen. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, on an initiative to support charter schools in neighborhoods identified as having strong potential for attracting and retaining middle-class residents. As the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate subcommittee in charge of appropriations for the capital city, the senator has taken a strong interest in its schools.  

Financed with $5 million earmarked by Congress, the City Build Charter School Initiative is slated to provide $1 million this year to each of five charter schools to help meet their facilities’ needs. The schools are to be located in one of 12 neighborhoods that scholars at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, have identified as promising targets for investment designed to fuel community renewal.  

The notion of creating charter schools that appeal to middle- income families is not universally applauded. Among the idea’s strongest critics are the very sorts of residents that the City Build initiative is aiming to please.  

“We’re only creating more options for people who already have a lot of options,” said Regina Arlotto, a middle-class mother of three who is the president of Save Our Schools, a group of parents with children in the city’s regular public schools. “There is a socioeconomic problem here, where the public schools are going to end up being warehouses for the poorest of the poor.”  

Last month, the group filed a federal lawsuit to end what it calls “the aggressive promotion of charter schools by the officials charged with running the D.C. public school system.”  

Calling the city’s 62,000-student public school system “notoriously dysfunctional,” the suit names the city school board as a defendant, as well as the District of Columbia Council and the mayor, who appoints four of the school board’s nine members. Also named is the separate District of Columbia Public Charter School Board, whose sole function is to authorize and oversee charter schools.  

Mentioning the City Build initiative by name, the suit says it “has no funds to build new public school facilities or improve the existing crumbling public schools, and is devoted solely to providing further incentives to D.C. residents to abandon the public schools.”  

Supporters of the City Build initiative reject the charge that promoting charter schools—or attempting to broaden their appeal—will undermine regular public schools.  

“What parents want is for their kids to be in schools where the same values are shared by the other parents,” Sen. Landrieu said. “Charter schools are not a threat to the public education system. They are like a window to let fresh air in, to make the public education system stronger, not weaker.”  

The federal money for the City Build program came from the political horse-trading that led to the enactment this year of a voucher plan for Washington. Reflecting a “three-sector approach” championed by Mayor Williams, that law designated $13 million for charter schools and $13 million for the city’s regular public schools, in addition to $13 million for tuition vouchers for low-income children to attend private schools in the city.  

Officials in the District of Columbia’s state education office are reviewing the 19 applications they received this fall for the City Build grants.  

This year, the money is expected to go to schools that have already gotten off the ground, said Rebecca Sibilia, the management officer at the state education office who is overseeing the program. For example, the Thurgood Marshall Academy, which has been operating since 2001 in a church annex, is among the applicants.  

But in the future, Ms. Sibilia said, the hope is that the grants will become a factor in shaping the very missions of new charter schools, as well as influencing where they locate. Although charter schools are open to children citywide, supporters say the idea is to provide convenient, free alternatives to families who for whatever reason lack confidence in the district-run schools available to them.  

“If this indeed does end up being a continuing program, this will become an incentive grant for schools to think about what they’re giving to the neighborhood, rather than finding the first location that they can,” Ms. Sibilia said.  

Among those hoping for some of the City Build money is the Capital City Public Charter School. Located in a renovated church in one of the 12 targeted neighborhoods, the school was founded in 2000 by a group of middle-class parents and now serves 240 students in prekindergarten through grade 8. Roughly 54 percent of those youngsters qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.  

“We already did what they want us to do,” Anne Herr said with a laugh, referring to the school’s decision to locate in one of the targeted neighborhoods.

Ms. Herr, a mother of three who was an analyst at the U.S. Department of State before taking over as the school’s executive director last month, said she grew interested in co-founding the school after growing disenchanted with her children’s district-run public school, which was located across town from her home. She said Capital City appeals to parents like herself who want an alternative to the area’s high-priced private schools.

“We were bothered at some deep level that people feel that it’s only private schools that are great schools,” Ms. Herr said. “We wanted it to be true that public schools can be great schools, too.”  

‘A Class Issue’  

As the City Build initiative rolls out, Sen. Landrieu says that Capital City is “exactly the kind of school we’re looking for.” Another one, she says, is the Two Rivers Charter School, which started up this fall in the Capitol Hill neighborhood and is modeled loosely on Capital City.  

Two Rivers has had a difficult birth, partly because of strong opposition from Save Our Schools, which was started by a group of parents with children in three district-run public schools known as the Capitol Hill Cluster. Ms. Arlotto, the Save Our Schools president, says the cluster lost enrollment this year, and she believes the decline was a direct result of charter schools, particularly Two Rivers.  

Located in a renovated wing of a district-run middle school, Two Rivers has attracted a mix of low-income and middle-class families. Of the 152 students from preschool through 3rd grade, a third qualify for subsidized lunches.  

Besides that socioeconomic diversity, the school has enrolled a larger percentage of white youngsters—32 percent—than most schools in the city. The school’s racial makeup is cited in the Save Our Schools lawsuit as evidence that the school is discriminating against African-Americans, who make up 53 percent of the school’s enrollment.  

Leaders of Two Rivers dismiss that contention, saying that the school took all comers as long as space was available, and that it held a lottery for slots in oversubscribed grades. As for the results, said Principal Jessica Wodatch, “I think it’s beautifully diverse.”  

Parent Darlene Boyd, who has twin boys in Two Rivers’ preschool program, said that the presence of other middle-class families like her own was a major draw, but that she doesn’t buy charges that the school is discriminating against blacks. She said that she and her husband, both of whom are African-American, had been considering moving to the suburbs before the school opened.  

“Honestly, it’s not a race issue, it’s a class issue,” Ms. Boyd said. “We’re black, and I want my children to go to school with people like us, kids who have lots of books and are exposed to things like us.”  

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Neighboring states attract Indiana educators

Oseye T. Boyd, Star Press 

MUNCIE - Indiana is losing quality administrators to neighboring states - specifically Illinois and Kentucky, educators say. 

The exodus of administrators to states such as Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Kentucky, while not huge has the potential to increase as more superintendents reach retirement age, said John Ellis, director of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents. 

Several factors contribute to the departures. 

In Indiana, it takes 10 years to become vested in the retirement fund versus a five-year period in neighboring states. That means a superintendent or principal can work in an Illinois school district and be eligible for retirement in five years. 

And to retire, the experience and age of Indiana administrators must equal 85, known as Rule 85. For example, an administrator can retire and draw from the Indiana Teacher Retirement Fund at 55 if the person has worked in the public school system for 30 years.

In essence, an administrator can retire in Indiana, go to work in Illinois and retire in five years and draw from two retirement funds. 

"I think the opportunity to draw a little bit more and be vested earlier makes that attractive to a lot of superintendents," Ellis said.

 

Additionally, educators who retire in Indiana and choose to go back to work in the public education system must earn less than $25,000 to receive retirement benefits. If an educator works for the Indiana Department of Education after retirement, he is exempt from the salary cap rule. 

Steve Heck believes the salary cap is punitive to educators who may want to re-enter the field. Heck is executive director of the Indiana Association of School Principals. 

Indiana principals are also facing the dilemma - stay or go. In a time where school performance and accountability are being monitored closely, it is important for school systems to remain as stable as possible, Heck added. 

"It just raises another issue relative to performance, achievement, consistency of leadership in those schools," Heck said. "We're losing quality leaders. It's unfortunate for the state of Indiana." 

Indiana's policies also could keep good candidates from applying from other states. 

"We don't have any solid data," Heck said. "We have anecdotal information on that, most of which suggests they don't even consider coming here for that very reason. Anecdotally, we know we don't have an influx of retirees coming in from other states, but we do have a lot of retirees leaving to go to other states. That policy is hurting Indiana in recruiting and retaining quality teachers." 

A shorter vesting period would help make Indiana more competitive with neighboring states, which could attract superintendents from outside Indiana, Ellis said. The Indiana General Assembly is responsible for changing the retirement guidelines, and legislators haven't been asked to do so, yet. 

"We have a position that we think it ought to be shortened, but it hasn't been a big issue for us in the past," Ellis said. 

Hartford City Senator David Ford, who serves on the Senate education committee, didn't know educators were leaving the state after retirement and doesn't foresee any changes in the rule any time soon. 

"We haven't had anybody come to me and say that 'We just can't get superintendents in this state anymore,'" Ford said. "Until they do, I don't know the legislature is going to do much about it as long as they can get the people they need." 

While it may not be top priority during the next legislative session, House Rep. Philip Pflum (D-Henry, Wayne counties), who serves on the House education committee, thinks the state needs to gradually phase in improvements to its policies. 

"We need to work to make the state more competitive with the other states, simply put," Pflum said. 

For now, the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents is taking matters into its own hands by identifying those with potential to become superintendents. On Feb. 2, 2005 the association will hold a prospective superintendent seminar. 

"We're going to start looking at how to start growing our own," Ellis said. 

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Another Way To Learn

For More Than 1 Million Students, There's No Place Like Home

Jay Mathews, Washington Post, 10/26/04   

Imagine a school where you don't need permission slips to take a field trip, where you can take a break from studying to go swimming, and where if you don't understand long division, the teacher can spend as much time on it as you need.  

Well, that's the kind of school that at least 1.1 million of the nation's 52 million school-age kids go to.  

It's called home school.  

Home-schooling is pretty much like it sounds. Kids get taught at home by their parents or the parents of friends who are also home-schooled.  

If you're being home-schooled, it's probably because your parents chose that for you.  

Parents give different reasons for home-schooling. Some say schools go too slowly or don't pay attention to children's individual needs. Some say schools don't teach moral or religious values. Some don't like the bullying and teasing on school playgrounds. Many think they lose valuable time with their children when they send them off to school.

Michelle Shaver of Springfield, Illinois, home-schools her son, Alex, 16, and her daughter, Abigail, 6. It's hard work, she says, but allows her to "get to know my children, especially my son, as a person, an individual, not as a member of that mysterious group called teenagers."  

Jeffrey Loomis of Waynesboro, Virginia, said he sometimes questions his decision to pull his two sons out of school, but then remembers the day the planet Venus passed across the face of the sun and he got up early with his older boy to watch the sun rise over the Blue Ridge Parkway before 6 a.m.  

What Kids Think  

Student opinions of home-schooling are like kids' opinions of regular schools. Some love it; others would just as soon skip it.  

Jessica and Joshua Cooperstock, 9-year-old twins in Waldorf, say they are learning a lot being home-schooled. Some of that learning comes from books, but some comes from trips to Baltimore, the District, even England and Wales, and Joshua really likes that. "I get to travel more and the work I do is more challenging, which makes it more fun," he said.  

Jessica said she likes getting right to work and then having the time to do what she wants. "We do all our work in the morning or early afternoon, and so we can do fun stuff later like ice-skating and swimming," she said.  

But some kids miss the fun-and-friends part of school. "You are stuck in your house with your parents and siblings all day every day, and it gets incredibly dull," said Justin Morton, 26, who was home-schooled from second to eighth grade in Portland, Oregon, along with his six brothers and sisters.  

How Does It Work?  

Some families turn a bedroom or the living room of their house into a classroom with desks, maps, bookcases and whiteboards, and have a set schedule. Some parents don't have either a special room or a schedule, but encourage their children to read whatever they like and take them to museums and concerts.  

Sometimes several families home-school together. Maybe one dad is great at math so he'll teach that to the kids, while someone else's mom is a biologist who can teach science. These groups, called cooperatives, help with one of the biggest criticisms of home-schooling: that kids don't learn how to deal with other students.  

So, do home-schooled kids learn as much as kids in a regular school? Or do they learn more?  

Most children who are home-schooled seem to do well in their studies. On tests, they perform as well as, or better than, their friends who are in school. Many home-schooled kids say that because they are more responsible for their own learning, they are better prepared for the demands of college.  

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Slot backers vow aid to schools

BY MARY ELLEN KLAS, Miami Herald, 10/28/04 

TALLAHASSEE - South Florida's parimutuel promoters tried to erase doubts Wednesday that they will make good on their promise to send revenues from slot machines to schools if voters approve a constitutional amendment that might pave the way for slots in racetracks. 

The promoters signed a contract guaranteeing 30 percent of their take will go to benefit education if they're allowed to go forward with slot machines. The proposal will be on the ballot Tuesday and asks voters to give Miami-Dade and Broward counties the authority to hold countywide elections to allow slot machine gambling at three horse tracks, two dog tracks and two jai alai frontons. 

The carefully crafted contract, signed with crayons as a symbolic gesture to schools, is between the seven parimutuel facilities and the Florida School Boards Association, a lobbying organization for the state's 67 school districts. 

''They're putting their money where their mouth is,'' said Jim Horne, former Florida Education Commissioner and spokesman for the promoters' campaign, Yes for Local Control. 

THE DEAL 

Under the contract, each parimutuel facility agrees to send 30 percent of its gross revenues to the association if the Legislature fails to tax them. If lawmakers impose a tax but it doesn't equal 30 percent, each parimutuel facility agrees to pay the school board association the difference. 

''We are taking this out of the control of the Legislature and putting it in the Constitution,'' said Daniel Adkins, vice president of the Hollywood Greyhound track. 

Opponents of the proposed Amendment 4 and their political committee, No Casinos Inc., have raised doubts about whether the Republican-led Legislature would risk voting for a tax when it has rejected every tax proposal before it for years. 

State Rep. Randy Johnson, a Celebration Republican who chairs the group, called the contract an unenforceable ``backroom deal.'' 

''There is no guarantee that any of the money makes its way into the classroom,'' he said. 

Florida's Constitution gives spending authority of state tax dollars solely to the Legislature. Horne, a former state senator, admitted that while the group can request the tax revenue go to help schools, it can't guarantee it. 

According to an economic analysis paid for by Yes for Local Control, Miami-Dade schools could reap $65 million in extra money in 2006 and Broward schools could receive $46.7 million if slot machine revenues were taxed at a rate of 30 percent.

PLAYING THE ODDS 

The contract is one of a handful of solutions the gaming industry has come up with to overcome the political obstacles that have barred it from expanding gambling in Florida in the face of increasing competition from unregulated Indian casinos and cruise ships. The group has singled out two counties, Miami-Dade and Broward -- which consistently vote in favor of new gambling initiatives -- to be the ones that would be allowed to conduct a referendum over slot machines.

A Herald/St. Petersburg Times poll last week found that voters in the southeastern part of the state support the amendment 58 percent to 38 percent, while voters in Central Florida oppose it 48 percent to 46 percent and voters in the Bay area oppose it 46 percent to 45 percent.

 

The group has also attempted to avoid charges that slot machine revenue will face the same fate as Lottery money and be used to offset existing education spending. 

Promoters have promised to create a 16-member oversight board, headed by Horne, that would oversee how the promised revenue is spent and make annual audits available to the public. 

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Student barred from distributing fliers

By William Kates, Associated Press Writer, October 29, 2004 

LIVERPOOL, N.Y. -- A fourth-grader and her mother claim a school district violated the girl's constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection by refusing to allow her to distribute "personal statement" fliers to other students because they carried a religious message. 

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court against the Liverpool Central School District by Nicole Martin and her daughter, Michaela Bloodgood. 

According to the lawsuit, the school district near Syracuse repeatedly denied Martin's requests for Michaela to pass out a homemade "personal statement" flier to other students at Nate Perry Elementary School. 

The flier, about the size of a greeting card, starts out: "Hi! My name is Michaela and I would like to tell you about my life and how Jesus Christ gave me a new one." The flier mentions five ways in which Jesus had come into her life. 

"This is nothing less than viewpoint discrimination," said Mat Staver, an attorney and executive director of Liberty Counsel, an Orlando, Fla.-based conservative legal group that is representing Bloodgood. 

According to the lawsuit, Liverpool officials said Michaela could not distribute it because her flier was religious and that there was "a substantial probability" that other parents and students might misunderstand and presume that the district was "endorsing" the religious statements in the flier. 

"The idea that people would think the district was endorsing Michaela's statements is simply absurd. Schools do not endorse everything they allow students to distribute," Staver said. 

Liverpool Superintendent Jan Matousek said she had not been informed of the lawsuit and therefore could not comment. 

The lawsuit noted that Michaela has received literature from other students at school, including literature concerning a YMCA basketball camp, Syracuse Children's Theater promotion of the show "Dragon Slayers" and the Camp Fire USA's summer camps. 

Staver said Michaela intended to distribute her flier only during "non-instructional time," such as on the bus before school, lunch, recess and after school.  

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Schools challenging state's ratings

Officials in some districts say glitches dropped rankings

By MIKE JACKSON, The Dallas Morning News, 10/29/04  

Some local schools are arguing they are better than the state says they are.

Administrators in 10 districts, including Dallas, Garland and Frisco, are appealing the latest Texas accountability ratings for individual schools or entire districts, according to a list released by the Texas Education Agency.  

They were among hundreds of schools and districts around the state that dropped a notch under the new and tougher state accountability system this fall.  

Appeals in most cases blame technical glitches, such as record-keeping errors or lapses in reports, rather than student test scores.  

In Frisco, for instance, Pioneer Heritage and Clark middle schools slipped from recognized, the state's second-highest rating, to academically acceptable.  

The district says there were errors in information about students sent to the state. Once corrections are made, those ratings should be changed, said Mike Waldrip, director for secondary curriculum and instruction in the Frisco school district.  

The lower rating "wasn't based on academic performance; it was an error in coding," Mr. Waldrip said. "Right or wrong, those ratings carry a lot of weight."  

The state deadline to appeal to the Texas Education Agency was Oct. 14. TEA officials plan to make final decisions on the appeals by the end of December, said spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson.  

A district can win an appeal if errors in data or calculations can be blamed on TEA, regional TEA services centers or companies that administer tests, Ms. Culbertson said.  

Similar errors by districts may also be considered.  

"During the process we look at each appeal individually," Ms. Culbertson said.  

The Garland district is appealing a rating of academically unacceptable for the Cooperative Behavioral School, a campus for about 35 specially placed students. The campus has never been rated in the past, and district officials said they're appealing to have the marker removed.  

In Carroll ISD, one of few districts with the state's highest rating, exemplary, administrators are appealing ratings of two schools that slipped to recognized. Dawson Middle School and Eubanks Intermediate School dropped because of scores from a few students who took a state test for special-education students.

 The Dallas district is appealing dropped ratings at four schools. Administrators are asking for an exemplary rating at Daniel James Elementary School. They're pushing for a recognized rating at Quintanilla Middle School. And they're challenging ratings of unacceptable at Stockard Middle School and Seagoville High.

Administrators are arguing that some students were counted as dropouts when they shouldn't have been, which could adversely affect a rating. They also argued in the appeals that test results of some students who took the special-education test should not be included in the overall assessment.

"According to district staff analyses, the four campuses appear to qualify for a higher accountability rating," acting Dallas Superintendent Larry Groppel wrote to TEA.

In Melissa, administrators are appealing the district-wide rating of academically acceptable, which dropped from acceptable.

Superintendent Jason Smith said Melissa suffered because it didn't adequately keep track of nine students who moved to another Texas district or who left the state altogether. But they were all tracked down and they're in school.

"We didn't properly show where these kids were," Mr. Smith said. "We know who these students are. We know they're getting an education."

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