April 15 22, 2005
TOP OF PAGE
State official: Merging should be local
choice / Quad Cities Times
And now for a really weighty issue: State goes after
hefty book bags
/ Chicago Tribune
From oui to wheeee for Hononegah teacher / Rockford Register-Star
Schools scrambling to rein in senior prank season / Chicago Sun-Times
Senate version of HB 750 protects new school funds / Pantagraph
School aid reform, not mere taxes, needed / Decatur Herald & Review
Education plans tread water for now / Daily Southtown
Use of obscure school tax sparks 4 Downstate suits
/ Chicago Tribune
Budget ignores suburban schools / Daily Herald
abuser is suing local school / Daily Herald
Meet the press
/ Decatur Herald & Review
More kids going wireless / Northwest Herald
not receive even less / Daily Herald
advance, but not gambling plan / Daily Southtown
Defying No Child law could cost Utah / Salt Lake Tribune
Schools Trying to Relieve Testing Stress
New Orleans' school system is a 'train wreck' / Daily Southtown
Bush is failing
our school systems / The Vanguard (Univ. of South Alabama)
states' domain / Salt Lake Tribune
States hit back
on school reform law / Christian Science Monitor
Teachers union, school districts sue over No Child
Left Behind / Associated
Mixup kept district
from getting mental health funds / Chicago Sun-Times
More Charter Schools as the Key to Improving Education /
Los Angeles Times
TOP OF PAGE
State official: Merging should be local choice
J.C. Taylor, Quad Cities Times
JOY, Ill. The Illinois state superintendent does not believe small school districts
should be forced to consolidate.
Randy Dunn believes that issue always should be left up to the local
voters. He knows the plight of small schools firsthand, being a 1976
graduate of Westmer High
in Mercer County.
Weve had various studies over the years that have said various
things, Dunn said. Weve been talking about this school
size issue in Illinois for right at 20 years now.
Dunn was serving as chairman of the Department of education Administration
and Higher education at Southern Illinois University before becoming
the interim state school superintendent. He was appointed state school
superintendent by Gov. Rod Blagojevich in September.
He was the guest speaker this month at a retirement ceremony at Westmer Secondary
He understands consolidation is a hot button topic.
It has to be a local decision, Dunn said. You cannot
mandate, you cannot force this type of change on a community from Springfield. It never works.
He realizes consolidation is becoming an option for schools in the area,
but he reminds people that it is up to the individual communities to
choose to proceed in that direction.
What I call on communities to do with small high schools is to
really be careful to think our we able to offer that comprehensive program
to allow our kids to go to Community College or into an apprenticeship
program or if they want to go to Harvard or Yale, Dunn said.
TOP OF PAGE
And now for a really weighty issue: State goes after
hefty book bags
Erika Slife and Tracy
Chicago Tribune. Staff reporters Jodi
Cohen and Grace
Aduroja contributed to this report
If state lawmakers get their way, perhaps Illinois students may someday be lugging Cliffs Notes-sized dictionaries
to school and replacing hefty atlases with road maps.
Heeding concerns that the postures of today's youths are being ruined
by heavy backpacks, the Illinois Senate voted 32-25 Friday to order
the Illinois State Board of Education to develop weight standards for
The measure, which goes to the House, is sponsored by Sen. Donne Trotter
(D-Chicago), who argued that children would be better prepared to learn
if they didn't have to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders
to and from school.
"Children are more inclined to carry their books if they're not
that heavy, so it certainly could attribute to them doing better in
school because they don't have this big old bag that they have to lug
around," Trotter contended.
But the vote left several educators mystified over why lawmakers were
moving more aggressively on textbook weight than on resolving a growing
school funding crisis that has left many districts saddled with deficits
and oversized classrooms.
"Of all the things to work on in a time when there's no money and
all these budget concerns," said John Moss, director of special
services at Glenbard Township High School District 87. "This particular
bill doesn't seem to me to be one of the highest priorities of the moment."
Illinois wouldn't be the first state to impose a diet on school
textbooks if Trotter's plan becomes law. But Maureen DiMarco, a senior
vice president at textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin, complained that
such legislation is a form of diversion for lawmakers who find it easier
to tackle than more politically difficult education reforms.
"It sure sounds like you're looking out for children, protecting
their spinal health," said DiMarco, a former secretary of education
in California. "But you're not really doing anything. And it's
a whole lot easier to tackle than finding an equitable school-funding
Deadline set for 2006
Trotter's measure, which he said was modeled after a Virginia law, would require the state board to issue maximum
weight standards for textbooks by the middle of 2006. California has a similar law, which led to a state commission finding
that textbooks for 2nd-graders ideally shouldn't weigh more than three
pounds, and books for high school sophomores shouldn't tip the scales
at more than five pounds.
The California panel concluded that it couldn't regulate the number
of books a student was allowed to carry, and it also didn't want to
scale back curriculum demands, which have a direct correlation to the
thickness of schoolbooks.
So it urged textbook publishers to offer lighter options to schools:
split volumes, books on computer disks and extra classroom sets. Such
alternatives, however, can be pricey.
Industry experts say that even the heaviest of textbooks typically weigh
five pounds or less, within the standards set by the California commission. Textbook girth, they point out, is dictated
by how much material a state mandates must be covered in a subject and
how long a district wants a book to last. Softcover books weigh less
but are less cost-effective because they wear out faster.
"I certainly don't think kids should be dragging around huge weights
on their back," DiMarco said. "But the notion that books are
the total problem here is very silly. It assumes that children only
carry books in their backpacks."
Indeed, books are only a part of what's weighing down school backpacks
these days. There also are soccer cleats and extra sweat pants, iPods
and bulky liter-bottles of soda that students tote to school because
more schools have banned vending machines.
Trotter said he was urged to draw up the bill by doctors concerned about
the growing number of children suffering spinal column injuries, back
pain and damaged posture. In 2002, according to the U.S. Consumer Product
Safety Commission, nearly 29,000 youngsters under age 15 were treated
in hospitals or doctors' offices for injuries related to heavy backpacks.
"The long-term injuries these children are experiencing--it's not
even long term, it's lifetime," he said. "We're talking about
saving health-care costs down the road."
Glenn "Max" McGee, superintendent of Wilmette District 39
and a former state superintendent, said student health should be a concern,
but the quality of textbooks should be more important than weight.
"I am all for keeping kids healthy, but when we look at textbooks
or resource materials, we are looking for quality," he said. "Sometimes
they are thick, and sometimes they aren't."
Parent weighs in
Mary Lus Mendoza-Taylor, who has a daughter in the 7th grade at Melrose Park School, agrees that books seem too heavy, but she thinks legislators
should focus on more fundamental education problems.
"How do they prioritize these issues that are going?" she
asked. "Some of these schools are fighting for the basics, and
[lawmakers are] not getting it."
In Lake Forest, school Supt. Harry Griffith said he recognizes his
students' backpacks are too heavy.
"I do think it's a problem," said Griffith, as he watched a high-schooler dump a heavy backpack
into the trunk of a car. "Unfortunately, this type of solution
can have unintended consequences, like the elimination of a curriculum."
Schools in Lake
have duplicate textbooks in classrooms so students don't have to drag
books home and back. That approach might be too expensive for less wealthy
districts, but Griffith suggested that state officials come up with other solutions
to the problem rather than mandate weight limits.
"To be that specific, to create a weight standard, is well intended
but misguided," Griffith said.
Glenbard's Moss said Trotter's bill could become a particularly burdensome
issue for educators. And he wondered if standards would have to be made
different for male and female students, various grade levels and even
athletes and non-athletes.
"I think the concern is a good one," he said, "but I'm
not quite sure how we get a handle on it."
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From oui to wheeee for Hononegah teacher
French instructor Jacque Bolger is chosen the state's top teacher.
Chris Green, Rockford Register Star
DECATUR -- The accolades just keep rolling in for Hononegah's teachers,
but none bigger than the selection of Jacque Bolger as the 2005 Illinois
Teacher of the Year.
The announcement was made Saturday night at the 31st annual Those Who
Excel banquet at the Holiday Inn Select.
"Oui! I'm so thrilled and so excited," the spunky 56-year-old
French teacher said. "It's going to be fun traveling around the
As teacher of the year, Bolger will serve as the state's ambassador
for teaching and represent Illinois
in the National Teacher of the Year program, which is sponsored by the
Council of Chief State School Officers and Scholastic Inc.
"What a kick. It's unbelievable," said Hononegah School Board
President Dave Kurlinkus, who was also in attendance. "I'm so happy
for her and the district."
Bolger has taught French for 34 years, of which the past 24 have been
at Hononegah High
where she is chairwoman of the foreign-language department overseeing
all the foreign-language teachers.
She has a bachelor of arts degree in French from Rosary College and a master of arts for teachers in English from Rockford College.
After her undergraduate studies, she initially pursued a career as an
interpreter for the United Nations. She then returned to college to
complete her teaching certificate and begin her career in education.
Bolger was selected from a field of seven finalists, each of whom received
the Award of Excellence. All award recipients were nominated by their
local schools or community members. A committee of former award winners
and representatives from statewide education organizations reviewed
the field of nominees and selected the finalists for teacher of the
The Illinois State Board of Education staff conducted videotaped interviews
of each finalist as part of the selection process, with the state superintendent
of education making the final selection of teacher of the year.
Ann Muraro, state coordinator for the program, helped interview each
finalist. "I'm glad I don't make the actual selection, but I really
like Jacque a lot," she said. "I like her personality and
Last year, Jane Frailey, a Hononegah environmental science and biology
teacher, was a finalist for the state's top honor.
This year, Hononegah teachers Janet Kagan and Timothy Sughroue, both
math instructors, will be honored Thursday with Golden Apples at a banquet
at the Ramada Plaza Suites and Rockford Convention
A decade's worth of Illinois Teachers of the Year
2004: Deb Perryman, biology and environmental science teacher, Elgin High School
2003: Dave Morrison, band instructor, Township High School District
214, Arlington Heights
2002: Robert Grimm, physics teacher, William Fremd High
2001: Jo Crow, science teacher, Metamora Grade
2000: Kevin Murphy, math and physics teacher, Lyons Township High
1999: Katherine Bissoondial, fourth-grade teacher, Glenn Elementary School,
1988: Steven Isoye, science teacher, Highland Park High
1987: Valeria Evans, third-grade teacher, Northmoor Primary
1986: Barbara Allen, art teacher, Harrisburg High
1985: Lynn Gaddis, sixth-grade teacher, Pepper Ridge School, Normal
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Schools scrambling to rein in senior prank season
Maureen O'Donnell, Chicago Sun-Times
Spring is senior prank season -- a time of year when school administrators
All over the Chicago area, schools are warning students that their actions
in the last days of high school can affect their lives forever.
The message has special resonance in St. Charles, where police Sgt.
Dan Figgins, 53, collapsed and died earlier this month after chasing
a suspect in a break-in at St. Charles East High School. That youth
and four other seniors are accused of trying to steal a school golf
cart in a prank.
As they have done for years, officials at St. Charles East had drafted
a letter warning pupils pranks would not be tolerated.
It was originally set to be mailed April 26 but "may have gone
out ahead of time'' in response to the tragedy, said Tom Hernandez,
a spokesman for St. Charles Community Unit School District 303.
The principal of St.
Charles North High School sent letters earlier this month.
"They were trying to break in and steal school property. That's
not playful,'' Hernandez said. "That's criminal.''
"This thing with the golf cart had been done before.... I don't
know if the kids were considering it traditional, or whatever their
The students have already been dealt consequences. They face criminal
charges in the incident. The district does not discuss specific disciplinary
matters, Hernandez said.
A senior prank at New Trier High
in 2000 caught the attention of MTV.
Students stole a master key -- which officials said opened a handful
of doors on the Winnetka campus -- made 600 copies and sent some to students,
along with a letter telling them the keys would open the outer doors.
"Good kids who did a dumb thing,'' was how then-Principal Wes Baumann
New Trier Township High School District 203 sends a letter to seniors,
said Supt. Henry Bangser, "making sure they know how important
it is to end the year with the same type of grace they always exhibited
during the course of the year.''
In 2001, in another senior prank, New Trier suspended several girls
for driving past the school topless.
Balancing 'Stand,' 'Bueller'
At Skokie's Niles North High
last year, a senior prankster tried to auction the school on eBay.
"They can create humor, but not at the expense of another human
being, or great expense,'' said Neil Codell, superintendent of Niles
Township High Schools District 219.
"Life has the beauty and emotion of the movie 'Stand and Deliver,'
but it also has the humor of 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off,' and we try
to find the balance,'' Codell said.
Web site warns seniors to behave as graduation approaches.
With administrative permission, playful pranks might be tolerated, said
Highland Park High Principal John A. Lorenz. For example, if students
told school officials, "'We'd like to fill the dean's office with
balloons,'" he said, "we let them.''
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Senate version of HB 750 protects new school funds
Chances for passage of a bill introduced last year to increase income
taxes and provide property tax relief to benefit schools seem slim at
But some of those provisions could be dovetailed into another bill that
calls for identical income tax increases but higher real estate tax
relief and creation of a fund that could be used only for education
Last year's House Bill 750 probably can't make it past Republicans because
they're joined by some of the majority Democrats who have problems with
portions of the bill.
And even if HB 750 could make it to the governor's desk, Gov. Rod Blagojevich
made it a campaign promise that he would not increase income or sales
That promise has placed him -- and the state -- in a box. It has contributed
to increases in numerous "fees" at the same time the governor
claims he is keeping his promise.
But as long as Blagojevich shows no sign of change and the Legislature
shows few signs of statesmanship, HB 750 seems doomed.
The best hope now is a compromise between HB 750 and Senate Bill 1484,
both of which have been advanced as shell bills to meet deadlines for
bills to be considered. The final language will be added later.
Negotiations have been under way among sponsors of both bills in hopes
of reaching a single bill that both sides can agree on.
If an agreement can be reached that attracts sufficient support, it
could render the measure "veto-proof."
The Senate bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Rick Winkel of Champaign.
Both bills would increase the income tax for individuals from 3 percent
to 5 percent and the income tax on corporations from 4.8 percent to
8 percent -- 66.6 percent increases.
Many of the similarities end there. The House bill would expand sales
taxes, tax retirement income for people making more than $75,000 and
eliminate "loopholes" in corporate taxes. The Senate bill
would have none of those.
To make the tax increases more palatable, the House version would guarantee
20 percent decreases in the education portion of real estate bills
the education portion is usually about two-thirds of a tax bill. The
Senate version calls for a 30 percent reduction.
The House bill would establish tax credits for families earning less
than $48,000. This is a way to create tax brackets in a state that has
none. The Senate bill has no tax credits.
Both bills would increase the amount given per pupil for education from
kindergarten through grade 12. Both would be about $6,000 per pupil.
The level is now $5,060. The Illinois Education Funding Advisory Board
recommended earlier this month that the basic level of per-pupil funding
should be $6,405.
The major hangup with Republicans is in distribution of the estimated
$5.8 billion a year net tax increase. They claim the House bill raises
$2 billion more than what is needed and that the $2 billion would go
into the state's General Fund, used for day-to-day operations of the
The Senate bill establishes an Education Assistance Fund into which
all money from the increases would go. The fund would be for education
The question is whether it could become another "lottery"
fund. Illinois taxpayers were promised lottery proceeds would go toward
education and they have. But what wasn't said was that a like amount
would no longer go into education from the General Fund. It was like
pouring money in at the top of a funnel and an equal amount falling
out at the bottom.
Winkel calls his Senate version the "Edgar-plus" bill because
it closely resembles a income tax increase proposal put together by
former Gov. Jim Edgar in 1997.
Two similarities between Edgar's 1997 proposal and now is inclusion
of a fund to go to higher education as well as K-12 public schools.
The Senate bill would earmark $500 million for higher education. Of
that, $400 million would go to universities. The other $100 million
would go to community colleges, which Edgar did not propose. That's
why Winkel calls his bill "Edgar-plus," with money to the
community colleges being the "plus."
The "extra" $1.5 billion (the GOP's alleged $2 billion more
in taxes than needed minus the $500 million to higher education) represents
most of the the difference between 20 percent (House bill) and 30 percent
(Senate bill) property tax rebates.
If taxes are to be increased for education, then that money should be
used for that purpose.
There is one more issue that will undoubtedly surface even if a compromise
can be reached on these bills -- accountability.
Talk of education funding increases invariably get around to the question
of whether more money will improve the quality of education. It's a
question that defies an answer and often sidelines meaningful talks.
Trust in educators has to be included in this equation, too.
If legislators don't like what they're hearing and seeing in these two
bills, let them step forward with something better. Complaining has
been getting us nowhere for years.
We will continue to watch and comment on the progress of the Legislature
on this issue. The education funding issue is too important to the state
of Illinois for another session of the Legislature to end without
Legislators should stay in Springfield
until they come up with a plan that will increase funding specifically
We've seen little action out of the state Legislature
We hear a lot of talk from Illinois
lawmakers on two subjects: Medical malpractice liability reform and
funding for education.
That's the problem. There's been plenty of talk, but little action.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich recently issued a call to raise education standards
for graduating high school students and wants to milk more money out
of the state's riverboat gambling casinos. But that doesn't solve the
long-term funding problem, nor does it increase student performance
to the desired, improved levels. All of this is just trimming around
the edges, not getting to the heart of the problem.
Meanwhile, the Legislature is talking about everything from restricting
access to tanning beds to forcing Illinois
employers to provide four weeks paid leave to workers with ill loved
ones, while our medical malpractice situation in Illinois steadily worsens.
What's going on in Springfield? Unfortunately, more fingerpointing and not much else.
With regard to medical malpractice, Republicans continue to accuse the
Democrats of being in the trial lawyers' pockets and stalling any legislative
reform attempts. Democrats accuse the GOP of stonewalling on discussion
of any measure because the Republicans want to drag out this issue to
continue to score political points against the Democrats. Access to
affordable health care is the real issue for the Legislature's constituents,
and the issue is no closer to being resolved than it was two years ago
at this time.
Meanwhile, our public schools in Illinois continue to struggle against difficult odds.
On April 5, two-thirds of all referendums on the ballot in
Illinois, which would have pumped more money into schools, were
defeated. It's clear local property owners are fed up with the heavy
burden they are carrying and most aren't willing to shoulder an even
For years and years, under both Democratic and Republican governors,
Illinois has not addressed systemic reform of education funding.
It seems that every year politicians' desire to survive another season
wins out over the idea of summoning up the political will to take action.
It appears that 2005 is shaping up to be another repeat of past performances.
What can you do? Simply contact your local legislator. Ask your legislators
what they are willing to do to bring about medical malpractice reform
and education funding reform.
Action is way overdue. Our state cannot afford for another year - another
legislative session - to go by without effective reform.
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School aid reform, not mere taxes, needed
Decatur Herald & Review Editorial
A lot of special-interest groups - most recently an association representing
superintendents of the state's large school districts and teachers -
are pushing the Illinois General Assembly to increase funding for education.
The teachers group appeared at the state Capitol on Wednesday to lobby
- dressed in red. Apparently red is "too stressful" to grade
papers, but not too stressful for lawmakers.
A week ago, the organization that represents the state's largest districts
threw their support behind a "tax swap" idea, claiming that
the lack of state funding was causing school districts to operate in
At the same time that school teachers and administrators are clamoring
for more money, voters are sending a clear message that they don't want
to spend more. Almost 65 percent of the school referendums in the April
election failed, sending a pretty clear message that voters are tired
of spending more money for education and getting the same results.
The real solution is a total revamping of the education funding system.
Schools are too dependent on the property tax - which varies widely
from locale to locale. That causes an uneven funding situation and creates
rich school districts and poor school districts. The state needs to
move to a system such as many states have adopted, where education is
funded primarily through the income tax and the money is distributed
in more equal amounts to school districts.
That's what supporters of House Bill 750 claim they are doing. But this
bill is really a hidden tax increase. The bill would increase the income
tax and lower the property tax somewhat. But taxpayers would still be
Educators and legislators need to understand there are solutions to
the education funding problem aside from clipping the taxpayers more.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich, for example, has proposed a series of pension
reforms that would eventually save the state millions of dollars and
free up money for education funding. But many of the same teachers who
lobbied in Springfield on Wednesday are fighting the pension reform issue,
including the practice of giving educators end-of-career pay raises
to boost their pensions.
A recent editorial in the Chicago Tribune points out another reason
taxpayers may be reluctant to part with more dollars. Illinois has 881 school districts, half of them with fewer than
150 students. By comparison, Missouri has 524 public school districts; Iowa, 370; Wisconsin, 426; and Indiana, 294.
Of course, each Illinois district comes complete with well-compensated administrators
and other overhead. Think how many dollars would be available for classroom
teaching if Illinois
cut the number of districts by one-third or one-half.
Reforming the pension system and consolidating school districts are
two methods to get more money spent on students, without raising the
burden on taxpayers.
The April referendum results are pretty clear: Taxpayers are not eager
to spend more money on education because it doesn't appear the money
is going to the students. The state has other options to fund education
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Education plans tread water for now
Kristen McQueary, Daily Southtown
Judging by the unanimous vote in the state Senate last week, Gov. Rod
Blagojevich's plan to increase high school graduation requirements is
seeing little resistance.
But the amendment that passed was the easy part. It didn't include the
funding mechanism to pay for the plan and pump an additional $300 million
into schools by doubling the number of games at existing riverboat casinos.
The gambling bill and education funding legislation haven't moved as
swiftly as the more-docile graduation requirements bill. With one month
before the end of the legislative session, lawmakers have yet to make
sausage out of the jumble of education proposals introduced.
In a meeting with the Daily Southtown's editorial board, Blagojevich's
director of education reform, Elliot Regenstein, said about 40 percent
of school districts statewide will be impacted by the graduation requirement
changes. Most of them are downstate.
Many districts, including Chicago Public Schools, already meet the math,
science and English mandates under Blagojevich's bill.
Blagojevich's plan to increase the number of games at existing casinos,
meanwhile, hasn't moved beyond the discussion stage. He announced his
support last month for more casino games as a way to boost funding for
Gamblers would spend more at the boats, Blagojevich's plan presumes,
if seats opened up more often at their favorite video poker machine
or $5 blackjack table. Casinos are currently capped at how many games
they can offer.
Even if lawmakers warm to the gaming bill, they'll still jockey over
how to divide the new proceeds. Blagojevich proposed plugging the money
directly into the state aid formula, which steers aid to lower-income
school districts. Wealthier suburban districts receive a smaller share
of state aid, mostly through categorical grants that pay for programs
like special education.
For the past two years and especially last year House
Republican Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) negotiated a split of education
funding to boost the state's contribution to categorical programs. He
is irked that under the governor's current plan, he'll have to fight
for it again.
"I'm not yelling and screaming out it as much as it seems like
a deliberate attempt to ignore the suburbs," Cross said. "I'm
not opposed to putting more money into the state aid formula, but I
think we've shown the governor's office before that (categoricals) are
important, too, so why go down this road?"
And that's assuming the gaming bill passes and the legislature has $300
million to divvy up.
"I'm not so sure this gaming bill passes. I'm not accepting the
fact that there is going to be this amount of money," Cross said.
Meanwhile, Blagojevich remains opposed to education funding legislation,
Senate Bill 750, which would increase state income taxes from 3 percent
to 5 percent among other tax increases to boost money
for schools. A wage earner making $75,000 annually currently pays about
$2,250 a year in state income taxes. That would jump to $3,750 under
The bill includes a mechanism for property tax relief, but Regenstein
said some taxpayers will still see an overall increase in their taxes.
Looking at the results of April 5 school referenda requesting local
tax increases two-thirds of which failed Regenstein said
it doesn't appear taxpayers would support an income tax hike.
"The people of Illinois are tapped out enough and asking them to pay more is
unfair," he said.
TOP OF PAGE
Use of obscure school tax sparks 4 Downstate suits
Diane Rado, Chicago Tribune, 4/20/05
Hundreds of school districts across the state and dozens in the Chicago
region have dramatically increased special taxes for legal claims and
insurance expenses over the last five years, a recent study shows, but
not necessarily because legal troubles have mounted.
The obscure tax, which doesn't show up on homeowners' bills, in some
districts has paid for portions of salaries for teachers, administrators,
secretaries, custodians and cafeteria workers, a Tribune review of court
records and district financial reports shows.
The practice has spawned lawsuits against four districts on behalf of
thousands of taxpayers. They allege their tax dollars for legal judgments
and liability insurance have been illegally diverted, and they want
their money back. The first lawsuit goes to trial May 2 in Stephenson
County Circuit Court.
"It's an outright abuse," said Freeport attorney Robert Slattery, who filed the lawsuits. "I
mean, people would get indicted if they were doing this in corporate
Local school officials say the expenditures are legal and proper under
the law that governs the use of the so-called "tort immunity"
tax dollars. Using those funds for salaries has enabled cash-strapped
districts to avoid deeper cuts, they say.
That law allows districts and other government bodies to levy a special
tax on property owners to cover legal settlements, liability insurance,
worker's compensation and other risk-management programs to protect
them from lawsuits. Unlike some tax rates that make up each school district's
levy, the rate for tort immunity expenses is not capped.
Statewide, 220 districts--nearly a fourth of the state's school districts--have
increased their tax levies for tort immunity expenses by 100 percent
or more between 1998 and 2003, according to a recent study by the Illinois
Business RoundTable, a Chicago business organization.
Of those, 48 are in the six-county Chicago region.
A Tribune analysis of 2003-2004 financial reports of the Chicago-area
districts showed that nearly every district moved the tort money into
its main education operating account for teacher and administrator salaries,
pumping up reserves and, in some cases, avoiding deficits.
That makes them stronger in the eyes of the state, which rates districts
on their financial health and considers reserves and spending practices
in the analysis. State financial ratings are to be released Wednesday
by the Illinois State Board of Education and are expected to show improvements
in district finances.
State education officials said they don't monitor the use of tort immunity
tax dollars--or how they prop up the bottom line--because those funds
are managed by local school boards and reviewed by outside auditors
hired by districts.
Local school officials and attorneys say the law spells out that districts
can use the funds for "educational, inspectional and supervisory
services" related to ensuring schools are safe for students, staff
and visitors, and protecting districts from lawsuits.
For example, a custodian who does repairs and ensures school buildings
are locked could be paid with tort immunity dollars.
But Slattery, who has filed lawsuits against the Quincy, Freeport,
Pearl City and Coal City school districts, said school officials have stretched
the definition so much that everyone, it seems, is involved in keeping
In the four districts in the lawsuits, tort money is used to pay part
of the salaries of teachers and administrators, school nurses, secretaries,
bookkeepers, and even music, foreign language and drama instructors,
among other staff, according to school district documents.
In Pearl City, for example, a drama teacher spends some time making
sure that students involved in building sets for a school play are not
injured. That enables the district to pay part of the teacher's stipend
for extracurricular activities from tort immunity tax dollars.
Pearl City officials could not be reached for comment.
Coal City allots 30 percent of principal salaries and 10 to 12
percent or more of teacher salaries to risk-management duties.
Supt. Kent Bugg said the district surveyed teachers to determine how
much time they spent on supervisory duties that keep children safe,
such as monitoring halls during five-minute passing periods between
He also said the district worked closely with its attorneys to ensure
the expenditures were appropriate.
Jeff Mays, president of the Illinois Business RoundTable, said he fears
that with tort money paying for salaries, districts won't have enough
left over if they have to pay a legal judgment.
"What happens when you have a legitimate lawsuit--all of a sudden
you have to lay off staff," said Mays.
He said his organization may seek changes in the law to clarify how
the tort money can be used.
In the 48 Chicago-area districts that have raised tort levies by 100
percent or more, 21 reported to the state they spent some of the money
on the contested category of "educational, inspectional and supervisory
Will County's Frankfort School District 157C, which increased its tort
immunity taxes by more than 1,000 percent since 1998, spent about 93
percent of those funds in that category last school year.
The district's chief financial official, Ernest Tonelli, said the district
uses tort money for a small portion of each teacher's salary--usually
less than 5 percent. The district has seen increases in liability insurance
costs and has paid more attention to school security since the 1999
Columbine school shootings.
Tonelli also said his district and others in the Chicago region are limited in how much revenue they can raise,
because of tax caps that restrict overall increases every year to the
rate of inflation.
So residents may not see an overall increase in their school taxes even
if tort taxes are going up, because districts would have to adjust the
tax rate in another area to stay within the cap.
But he acknowledged that taxpayers could also see a decrease in their
taxes if districts didn't raise the tort tax rate.
Schools raise taxes for legal claims, insurance.
Hundreds of Illinois school districts have increased the amount of "tort
immunity" taxes they collect for legal claims and insurance. Those
funds in some districts have been used to pay for other things, such
as salaries for teachers, custodians and secretaries.
TOP OF PAGE
Budget ignores suburban schools
Sara Burnett, Daily Herald
The two suburban members of the Illinois State Board of Education said
Wednesday they want another chance to set priorities for next years
education budget, noting the governors latest plan ignores
Board member Dean Clark of Glen
Ellyn also said hes
concerned the spending plan announced in March by Gov. Rod Blagojevich
differs significantly from the priorities approved by the board a month
If the will of the majority is to go along
said during a meeting of the boards finance committee. But
I have a problem with it.
Becky Watts, director of public information for the Illinois State Board
of Education, said the governors staff will meet with the board
and that they look forward to discussing priorities.
We all know this is a very lengthy process, and its really
just beginning, Watts
In February, the board was asked to prioritize how to spend an expected
$140 million in education dollars.
The bulk of those dollars were put toward a $40 to $45 increase in the
states per-pupil funding formula money that mostly helps
Chicago and downstate schools.
It also included $20 million for state and federal mandates such as
special education and $10 million to help schools comply with the Americans
with Disabilities Act.
But in March, Blagojevich unveiled a new plan that included $440 million
in new funds, much of it raised through expanding gambling.
Of that money, nearly $380 million would go to per-pupil funding. Most
suburban districts, however, take in too much money in property taxes
to receive those funds.
The new plan also cut the $20 million for special education and the
$10 million for ADA dollars that would have helped suburban schools
while adding $8.6 million for districts to offer Advanced Placement
classes and $500,000 for agricultural education.
I dont think you can ignore the needs of suburban schools
and thats really whats happening here, Clark said.
Board member Joyce Karon of Barrington
Clark and Karon are the only two veteran board members. The seven others
all were appointed by Blagojevich last year.
The comments come just days after House Republican leader Tom Cross
sent a scathing letter to state Superintendent Randy Dunn calling the
newest budget proposal which he presented recently to a Senate
committee along with the original board proposal misguided.
TOP OF PAGE
Convicted sex abuser
is suing local school
By Rob Olmstead, Daily Herald Staff Writer, 4/22/05
A man who was convicted of five counts of sexual abuse of a minor under
13 years of age is suing Schaumburg High School, arguing he should be allowed to attend his daughters
At least some of his victims attend the high school, documents filed
with the lawsuit indicate.
If the 52-year-old Chicago man gets his way, it would not be the first time he
has been on Schaumburg High
In 2004, Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 changed its policies
after it discovered the man, a repairman, was working in the school
as a subcontractor to a vendor. After the friend of one of the mans
victims recognized him, a police officer assigned to the school escorted
him out and the district ordered him not to return.
Superintendent Roger Thornton and the board immediately expanded their
policy of doing background checks on employees to include subcontractors.
The man whom the Daily Herald is not naming to protect the identity
of his victims sued in federal court Thursday.
His attorney, Richard C. Moenning, has been engaged in correspondence
with the district for several weeks, trying to get them to relent.
My client is a compliant child sex offender. Unless you know some
facts not disclosed in your letter, he has every right to enter school
zones where permitted by law, Moenning wrote on March 17.
Moenning went on to quote an appellate court opinion on the law that
says it confines its prohibitions to those child sex offenders
who are not parents or guardians of children at the school and those
without permission to be present.
You have apparently missed some important aspects of (the sex
offenders) circumstance, fired back Thornton
on March 22. (The sex offender) was in Schaumburg High
repairing (equipment) in the presence of students without any adult
supervision. (He) was not performing the parental duties seemingly permitted
in the statute
Rather, he was performing duties associated with
that of a vendor.
Thornton then went on to point out that the sex offender was
seen by a student a friend of one of the victims who recognized
him and that his presence caused a disturbance. Citing a policy that
allows the district to ban anyone when their presence causes a disturbance,
Thornton said the ban was still in effect.
(The friends of the victims) and the girls who were sexually abused
did nothing wrong. They were victims and will again become so if their
rights to freely attend school events without worry of (the sex offenders)
presence are compromised, Thornton wrote.
District officials had not seen the suit Thursday and declined comment.
The sex offenders lawyer and family could not be reached for comment.
The sex offender was first charged with the five counts of sex abuse
in February 1996 and pleaded guilty in March 1999. He was sentenced
in April 1999 to four years in prison by Cook County Judge John J. Scotillo
at the Rolling Meadows branch.
TOP OF PAGE
Meet the press
Illinois' first lady submits to Harristown school's traditional
By SHEILA SMITH, Decatur Herald & Review Staff Writer, 4/21/05
SPRINGFIELD - Patti Blagojevich patiently answered the reporter's
question Wednesday about her husband's future. The first lady said he
had enough to handle as governor and she couldn't think about him running
for vice president or president anytime in the near future.
The question posed to the first lady came from no ordinary reporter.
It was asked by Mason Eaton, 10, who was serving in the role of a Herald
& Review reporter. Mason's direct question was: "Would you
like to see her husband one day become a senator, vice president or
Mason was one of 32 fourth-grade students from Harristown Grade
armed with pens and note pads, who fired questions at Mrs. Blagojevich.
It was the 35th year Harristown students have interviewed the first
lady of Illinois.
Jeff Deremiah, a retired teacher, started the event back in 1970 when
Gov. Richard B. Ogilvie was in office and students interviewed the first
lady, Dorothy Ogilvie. Other first ladies who were interviewed by Deremiah's
students included Roberta Walker, Jayne Thompson, Brenda Edgar, Lura
Lynn Ryan and now Patti Blagojevich.
"I feel young children should be encouraged in career education.
They also learn to get up in front of a group to speak, which helps
build their self-confidence," Deremiah said.
Mrs. Blagojevich, dressed casually in a white blouse and slacks, sat
in the main ballroom during a news conference staged from them Wednesday
at the governor's mansion in Springfield.
"I really liked it and it was fun. I just didn't know it would
be like that," said Eaton. But he said don't bet on him becoming
a journalist in the future.
Kelsie Dunakey asked the first lady, "How do you balance your time
as first lady and how much time do you spend with your family?"
"You have to balance your time and know what your priorities are.
We always put our girls first," Mrs. Blagojevich said.
Shea Cummings asked Mrs. Blagojevich if she ever visits other first
ladies. And Jordan Jump asked her what the governor has done to support
the troops since the war.
After the news conference, Mrs. Blagojevich posed for pictures with
the students and signed autographs.
"The children are very sweet," she said. "It's a nice
event and tradition.
TOP OF PAGE
Phone youth: More
kids going wireless
By GENEVA WHITE, Northwest Herald, 4/22/05
Standing outside Woodstock High
on a sunny Thursday afternoon, Dave Byers picked up the silver gadget
playing the "Super Mario Brothers" theme song from his hip.
It was his mother calling to see whether he could arrange another ride
home from school.
"They [cell phones] help because I don't have to wait for my ride,"
the 15-year-old said after answering his call. "I know when they're
But Byers isn't alone among his peers when it comes to carrying his
own cell phone. According to a recent study by NOP World Technology
in New York, about 44 percent of youngsters between age 10 and 18
own cell phones.
And as more and more students go wireless, McHenry County schools are having to add the issue of cell-phone use
to discipline policies.
Ron Ludwig, principal of Hannah Beardsley Middle
in Crystal Lake, said that in recent years, the school had had to put
a greater emphasis on cell-phone rules.
"It's just the way of the world," Ludwig said. "They
can get ahold of their parents after school if something is canceled
or if they get out of a sport sooner."
A few years ago, Ludwig said, the number of Hannah Beardsley eighth-graders
with cell phones was about 1 percent to 2 percent. Now, almost half
the eighth-graders have cell phones, he said. Students are prohibited
from using cell phones during school hours and must keep them turned
off while at school, he said.
"Our biggest concern is theft," Ludwig said. "In the
olden days where you would have a theft of a watch or something, now
you have these high-tech items, and we're expected to police them if
they're stolen. That's a challenge."
In Woodstock School
200, students cannot use their cell phones during school hours, and
the devices must remain in their lockers, said Barb Banker, spokeswoman
for the district. Student caught with cell phones at school are subject
to having the items confiscated and their parents called, she said.
Woodstock High School Assistant Principal Ron Bendis said that although
he did not own a cell phone himself, he made sure that his son and daughter
had cell phones when they went away to college.
"You have to find a happy medium with them," he said. "Parents
are so busy; that's their way of communicating with [their children.]"
Though more rare, cell-phone use is not just limited to youngsters in
their teens and tweens. Dee Kleszczynski, assistant store manager at
Crystal Cellular Communications in Crystal
she once saw a 7-year-old get her own cell phone and plan. But most
of the time, parents are buying phones for children age 10 and older,
Firefly Mobile is jumping on the wireless preteen bandwagon with its
recent launch of a mobile phone designed specifically for children that
includes two speed-dial keys with a picture of a man and woman for easy
access to Mom and Dad. Parents can program the phone to hold up to 22
Kleszczynski said parents often bought family-share plans, and she usually
recommended that they give the free phones that accompany the plans
to their children, rather than buying them fancy gadgets.
"You don't need to spend $400 on a phone when you have a free phone
and it's for an 11-year-old," she said.
A few minutes after Byers got off his phone, a white sport utility vehicle,
driven by his friend's mother, pulled up. As the boys hop into the vehicle,
the driver, Amy O'Neil, said she was glad that her children had cell
"They're very good with it," she said. "It's peace of
mind for us."
TOP OF PAGE
not receive even less
Daily Herald Editorial, 4/22/05
When it comes to money, suburban school boards and administrators expect
relatively little from Springfield.
That is not an entirely disparaging reflection on budget makers in the
state capital. Most suburban school officials understand that their
relatively greater property tax wealth means they will be expected to
rely heavily on property tax revenue, instead of state money. For the
most part, the state sends its education dollars to downstate and Chicago schools, which generally do not have the strong property
tax bases that characterize many suburban districts. Everyone understands
that is the way the system will work until the state overhauls its school
And while suburban voters recently have become less inclined to vote
for further property tax increases, suburban schools still have been
able to maintain academic excellence with very little state help.
At the very least, however, suburban school authorities and lawmakers
go into each legislative session expecting that what little state money
they do receive will not be yanked away for use elsewhere.
But that is what an early budget draft would do, and that is why suburban
officials are and should be responding with genuine ire
and calls for the proposal to be revised.
Early this year, Gov. Rod Blagojevich proposed a budget that called
for a $140 million increase in state funding for public schools next
year. So negative was the reaction from the education lobby and some
legislators of the governors own party that Blagojevich hatched
a plan, through expanded gambling at existing casinos, to place an additional
$300 million in the pot.
But more may be less for suburban districts. Randy Dunn, the governors
state superintendent, has indicated that even if the additional $300
million materializes, that $20 million earmarked earlier for special
education and $10 million designated for compliance with the Americans
with Disabilities Act may disappear.
That prompted House Republican leader Tom Cross, of Southwest suburban
Oswego, to send a stern letter reminding Dunn that the state
board of educations obligation is to all public schools, including
suburban districts. The shift also triggered protests Wednesday from
two suburban members of the state board of education.
Such funds earmarked to help cover the cost of state and federal mandates
are about all that most suburban districts receive from the state. The
loss of such assistance would be particularly damaging, because special
education services are disproportionately costly to provide.
Suburban districts dont expect a lot, but whats fair is
fair. Cross is correct this shift is, to use his word, misguided.
If the governor, his board of education and Chicago and downstate legislators cant see fit to restore
the dollars suburban schools count on to help pay for mandates, then
they shouldnt count on much suburban legislative support for anything
TOP OF PAGE
advance, but not gambling plan
Daily Southtown Editorial, 4/22/05
THE ISSUE: Plan to boost graduation requirements moves forward, but
not the plan to pay for it.
WE SAY: Gov's proposal is looking like lip service.
Maybe we're just cynical, but Gov. Rod Blagojevich's spring education
initiative is looking more like lip service than a substantive plan
to improve the schools.
A few weeks ago, the governor proposed increasing the number of gambling
positions at Illinois casinos, from 11,000 to more than 23,000. The state's
take from the new slot machines and table games would be about $300
million, the governor says, and he pledged that money would go toward
raising the so-called "foundation level" in the state's public
Along with the gambling expansion, Blagojevich proposed new graduation
requirements for Illinois high schools. Illinois now ranks among the bottom 10 states in how demanding
its graduation requirements are. The new requirements would raise the
state to the "middle of the pack," the governor's staff says.
The new graduation requirements breezed through the state Senate the
other day, gaining unanimous approval. The change would require students
to gain 18 credits to graduate, up from 16, and on paper would boost
the number of English, math and science classes students would have
to take. It turns out, however, that for 60 percent of the state's schools,
the local graduation requirements are already more demanding than the
governor's proposal. For kids in Chicago and the suburbs, the new state requirements would change
very little. In Chicago, for example, students would have to take an English
class and a class in another area that emphasized writing skills.
The new standards would primarily affect downstate schools.
Nonetheless, the Senate quickly approved the change. Why wouldn't they,
since the measure said nothing about how the new classes and new teachers
would be paid for? The gambling expansion will be part of another bill
that hasn't been put together yet.
What happens if the gambling expansion gets shot down? That could happen,
because some important gambling supporters in the Legislature would
prefer to authorize new casinos, perhaps in Chicago, Rockford
and the south suburbs. Gambling opponents prefer no expansion. Education
supporters have always objected to gambling revenue as a school funding
source and would rather see something more dependable and less unsavory,
like an income tax increase. Even the casino owners say they won't support
the change because, after buying new machines, remodeling and paying
taxes at a 70-percent rate, the profit would not be enough to make it
worth their while.
As it turns out, the governor doesn't have a Plan B in the event the
gambling plan fails. For that matter, there are not many details available
about Plan A. But members of his education staff told the Daily Southtown
editorial board that funding isn't a serious problem at this point because
the changes won't be fully implemented until 2009. In fact, during the
first year of the changes, all that will be added will be a single math
class requirement for freshmen.
So we have a plan that so far has no funding, but that's OK because
the plan doesn't really do very much, other than allow the governor
to claim he tried to pump an additional $300 million into public schools.
If the Legislature says no to new gambling, the governor can say he
The schools meanwhile will continue to wait for meaningful reform of
the way the state pays for public education.
While they're waiting, they may have to add teachers and classes mandated
by the state with new money to pay for them at best a longshot.
TOP OF PAGE
Defying No Child law could cost Utah
Ed secretary says federal funds likely to be cut by up to $76M
Ronnie Lynn, The Salt Lake Tribune
Contrary to assurances from the governor's office, Utah could lose as much as $76 million in federal funding
if lawmakers pass a bill challenging No Child Left Behind during this
week's special session.
The revelation came in a letter Monday from U.S. Secretary of Education
Margaret Spellings to Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch. The letter responds to
Hatch's request for input on state legislation - now known as House
Bill 1001 - that would put Utah's school-accountability system ahead of No Child Left
Behind (NCLB), President Bush's initiative to close the achievement
gap between minority and white students.
''While the enactment of the bill itself does not guarantee noncompliance
with NCLB, the implementation of a number of its provisions is likely
to cause conflicts and trigger . . . [financial] consequences,'' Spellings
wrote. ''Several principles in the bill are fundamentally troublesome,
and appear to be designed to provoke noncompliance with federal law
and needless confrontation.''
HB1001 gives school officials authority to ignore NCLB provisions that
conflict with state education priorities or cost state dollars.
In jeopardy are $55 million in Title I funds for disadvantaged students,
$19 million in Title II funds for teacher training and $2 million in
Title V funds for parental-choice programs, Spellings wrote.
Hardest hit would be districts with large populations of low-income
students, such as Salt
Granite and San
Juan school districts.
"It's demoralizing news but not entirely surprising," said
Charles Hausman, an associate superintendent in Salt Lake City district. "It's difficult to understand how anyone
can support legislation that could put at risk $76 million for education
of children when Utah already spends the least per pupil in the nation."
Preliminary figures from the state Office of Education show his district
is expecting nearly $9 million from the three federal pots outlined
by Spellings. Much of that money pays for extra teachers in disadvantaged
State Schools Superintendent Patti Harrington, an ardent supporter of
HB1001, acknowledged the loss would hurt students who need the most
help. At the same time, she frowned on the department's ''threat.''
"I regret that the Department of Education continues to be an agency
of threats to the state," she said Monday.
Harrington said the state Office of Education would not defy NCLB and
risk the federal funds - unless mandated by the Legislature.
''I don't know how strong their directives will be,'' she said.
That will become clear today and Wednesday, as the Legislature debates
HB1001 - known during the general session as House Bill 135.
Until recently, HB1001 has had overwhelming support from
a wide swath of politically disparate groups, including the Eagle Forum
and the Utah Education Association, not to mention unanimous endorsements
from the House during the general session.
Some of that support has eroded as minority groups and lawmakers representing
diverse districts began to foresee possible implications of the bill,
such as weaker accountability for minority students' achievement.
Even so, Republican leaders have promised the bill's easy passage, and
the governor's office reiterated its assurances that federal funds are
not at risk.
"While the law would not put at risk Title I funds directly, state
school officials would be required to act judiciously under the law
in order to continue Title I and other federal funding sources for education,"
Huntsman attorney Mike Lee said in a prepared statement.
TOP OF PAGE
Schools Trying to Relieve Testing Stress
Martha Raffaele, Associated Press, Newsday
COLUMBIA, Pa. -- Across the nation, educators are trying a variety
of methods -- including beach days, barbecues, flute music and fun hats
-- to ease student test anxiety as schools face increased pressure to
improve their scores under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Asia Pearson and her fifth-grade classmates enjoyed a taste of summer
as a reward for enduring a battery of state math and reading tests.
After their exams, the students changed into sunglasses, spaghetti-strap
tank tops and flip-flops -- clothing normally banned under the Taylor Elementary School
dress code -- and had a make-believe "beach day." Beach Day
capped a week of activities that also included Pajama Day.
"The test was hard, but the activities were the fun part,"
11, as she sat on a chair draped with a rainbow-colored Mickey Mouse
"We need to somehow take the stress off the kids, and somehow make
those days as normal as possible," said Brent Swartzmiller, principal
of Wayne Trail Elementary
in suburban Toledo, Ohio.
At Swartzmiller's school, one teacher leads her students through mental
and physical exercises before Ohio's
state tests, which are administered in March. In an exercise designed
to increase blood flow to the brain, the students touch their chests,
with their thumbs and index fingers just below their collarbones.
"It sounds wacky, but at the same time I think it does work,"
Joseph Pisacano, a fifth-grade teacher in the Philadelphia suburb of
Warminster, decided to use tai chi as a stress-relief activity two years
ago after he saw how it relaxed a group of 100 students during an Asian
culture celebration at his school.
For about 15 minutes at the beginning of each test day, Pisacano leads
his students through a set of meditative movements while flute music
plays in the background.
"What I've noticed is that students have a positive reaction to
the test," Pisacano said. "Everybody applies themselves. I
don't have a lot of heads down on the desk and `Ugh!' -- which is pretty
typical for fifth grade when you have something as monotonous as six
days of testing."
Other schools target students' stomachs.
At Memorial High
in Madison, Wis., teacher prepare a buffet-style breakfast for sophomores
on the mornings of their state tests, which take place in the fall.
For several years, the K-8 Arcadia Neighborhood Learning Center in Phoenix has kicked off its four-day state testing period with
This year, the school had the students make "thinking caps"
to wear on the day of the event, said Principal Carolyn Repp, who donned
a student-designed paper hat festooned with curly ribbons for the occasion
"It's a celebration for them, to know how smart they are and how
capable they are," she said.
Gregory J. Cizek, an education professor at the University of North Carolina's Chapel
Hill campus, said
relaxation techniques can help take the edge off students' test anxiety.
But he cautioned that other activities could worsen it by drawing extra
attention to the test.
"It's almost better, when you introduce the test, to say, `There's
the test, do your best, and I'll be happy to answer any questions,'"
Robin Young, the Taylor Elementary
teacher who allowed her students a "beach day," sees the offbeat
test-day clothing themes as a harmless way to blow off steam.
"Any chance I can get to allow them to be children, and doing what
I remember doing as a child, is a good thing," she said.
TOP OF PAGE
Orleans' school system is a 'train wreck'
Adam Nossiter, The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS Dozens of employees indicted or convicted on
corruption charges. Tens of millions of dollars unaccounted for. Eight
superintendents in seven years. Rock-bottom test scores. Shootings,
sirens and police uniforms, often. The threat of bankruptcy and bounced
In the dismal gallery of failing urban school systems, New Orleans' may be the biggest horror of them all.
"Urban districts, in general, will often have problems with instruction,
with finances, with operations," said Michael Casserly, executive
director of the Council of Great City Schools in Washington. "But they don't always occur at the same time.
And New Orleans is really facing a three-front challenge."
New Orleans "is almost a national scandal," said James
Harvey of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington in Seattle. "The consistent gossip about favoritism and corruption
is extremely troubling." And the city has become "murderers
row for superintendents."
The latest crisis in the 64,000-student system broke two weeks ago.
First, teachers nearly missed a paycheck, the system was so broke. Then,
the state threatened a takeover. Finally, the superintendent, a reformer
from New York who, like many before him, entered with grand plans,
was forced out by a school board disenchanted with his reform ideas.
Superintendent Anthony Amato's fate was sealed last week at a board
meeting crackling with racial hostility. Much of the hooting was directed
at him and his white supporters in the school system, which is almost
94 percent black.
Financially, the school system is a "train wreck," Louisiana's top government watchdog, legislative auditor Steve
Theriot, told lawmakers in Baton Rouge.
No one knows for certain how much money it has, or how much money it
At the glass-and-steel school administration complex across the Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans, FBI agents and other federal and state investigators
have opened an office to pick through the evidence of graft.
Just last week, a payroll clerk was sent to jail for stealing $250,000
she had kept her job with the New Orleans schools, even after
being indicted on charges of stealing from a bank. A year ago, the district's
insurance manager pleaded guilty to taking kickbacks. One of the bribe-givers
was former Mayor Marc Morial's aunt.
In February, the U.S. Education Department said nearly $70 million in
federal money for low-income children was either not properly accounted
for or misspent. State officials said one reason is that for years,
teachers and principals wanting promotions to more lucrative central
office positions have been put into accounting jobs for which they are
"There is not one accountant working in the accounting department,"
Theriot said. "There's not one in the trenches."
State and federal officials are demanding that every aspect of the district's
finances be turned over to an outside accounting firm. The locals are
balking, but they probably cannot resist much longer: Washington and Baton Rouge, which give New Orleans more than half its $577 million budget, have the upper
Meanwhile, morale in the beleaguered teaching corps is sagging.
"We're constantly hit by these disasters," said Leo Laventhal,
a French and Spanish teacher at one of the city's magnet schools. Often,
colleagues at his school never receive their paychecks. And it is no
use complaining: "We call the central office, and nobody answers
the phone," Laventhal said.
Long ago abandoned by this city's middle class, the schools in New Orleans are in sad shape academically. New Orleans accounts for 55 of Louisiana's 78 worst schools. More than two-thirds of the school
system's fourth-graders do not have basic competence in math.
In the sagging old neighborhoods of New Orleans, the schools are dilapidated cinder-block buildings
ringed by barbed wire. Outside one earlier this month, a student was
shot in the neck. Afterward, his schoolmates at Lawless High mugged
for the TV cameras and walked nonchalantly over the medical debris left
behind by paramedics.
At last Monday's raucous school board meeting, a plan pushed by whites
to expand an academically successful magnet school was shouted down
amid cries of racism.
Yet one scholar said the plan advanced by the latest superintendent
to be forced out could have led to the salvation of the district.
"That may be the one thing that could draw the middle class back
in to New Orleans," said sociologist Carl Bankston of Tulane University. "The root of the problem isn't the superintendent,
or the school board. It's a school district without much of a middle
class at all. I would say that's at the heart of why the school system
is so bad."
TOP OF PAGE
Bush is failing
our school systems
Opinion by Melissa Webster, Contributing Writer, The Vanguard, 4/19/05
The No Child Left Behind Act is yet another example of the idiocy that
is so prevalent in the federal government since George Bush became president.
Riddled with idealistic, yet unrealistic, even absurd requirements,
I have trouble wrapping my mind around the fact that the act even passed
Enacted in 2001, NCLB mandates every state carry out annual testing
to assess the performance of each and every student in all grades. This
includes special education students, who are now expected to perform
at the same level as students in the mainstream. Call me crazy, but
if they could perform at the same level as mainstream students, they
wouldn't be in special education in the first place.
David Holland, a math teacher and basketball coach at Vigor High School in Mobile,
Alabama says, "NCLB is well intended, but it's not necessarily
He adds, "The idea that a child with a 60 IQ can achieve at the
same level as a child with a 120 IQ is preposterous."
Special education students are expected to take the same standardized
tests within the same time frame as the mainstream students. If this
isn't ridiculous enough, forcing them to take these tests creates low
self-esteem when they do not perform well and undue stress to a population
of students who are already struggling. Thus, leaving a lot of children
If 40 percent of students in every subgroup, including special education,
do not meet the standards of performance required by NCLB, their school
is deemed "low performing" and subject to cuts in federal
funding and a state takeover.
Yet, there is no national form of assessment. It is up to each state
to determine what is low performing, which, to say the least, makes
for serious inconsistencies. Though it's admirable to want every student
in the United States to go to college and achieve at the top level, it simply
isn't possible. This is just another example of idealism run amok.
In addition to this complete lack of common sense, NCLB also places
an unnecessary and unconstitutional financial burden on the states.
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal says, "Requiring
Connecticut to spend $8 million of its own money to conduct additional
testing, when it has a successful 20-year history of alternate-grade
testing, violates the Unfunded Mandates Provision of NCLB, 20 USC Sec.
7907(a), as well as the Spending Clause under the U.S. Constitution."
Wait...what? Because Congress has enacted a law that mandates adherence
to that law be federally funded, and then did not provide the necessary
funding for it, they are in violation of their own law. Can we say idiot
a little bit louder now? Come on, I know you can do it.
In addition to violating the Spending Clause of the U.S. Constitution,
it also violates the 10th Amendment, which clearly states power not
delegated by the U.S. Constitution, nor prohibited by it, is reserved
for the states.
Because there is nothing in the Constitution granting the power of the
federal government over education, Congress has no right to mandate
education. It is the right of the states. This violation of the Constitution
and objection to the annual testing requirements has prompted Connecticut to file suit against the U.S. Department of Education.
Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings called the lawsuit "un-American"
and accused Connecticut education officials of "the soft bigotry of low
Ah, yes. When met with opposition, do what this administration always
does, play the patriot card, and if you can, play the race card as well.
Double whammy! Way to go, Spellings!
Other states have announced their intention to also file lawsuits objecting
to the NCLB.
California's objection to NCLB is its mandate that students in
English Learners be required to take the tests in English.
These students do not speak English as a first language, but are learning
English. They are required to take the tests in English instead of their
native language and are struggling with the language barrier, thus not
performing well. Their schools are being labeled "low performing"
as a result.
According to Christine Mahr of The Desert Sun, the California Association
for Bilingual Education and Californians Together have joined the lawsuit.
"The groups say the testing of English learners in English violates
No Child Left Behind, which says English learners should be tested in
a 'valid and reliable' manner and in the language and form most likely
to yield accurate data on what students know and can do in academics,"
Though this legislation seems on the surface to be a positive step toward
progressive education, it is in reality an abuse of power by the federal
government and an inept attempt to appear to be "doing something."
The absurdity continues.
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Schools are states'
Opinions by Margaret Dayton and Patti Harrington, Salt Lake Tribune, 4/18/05
State Rep. Margaret Dayton is chairman of Utah's House Education Committee. Dr. Patti Harrington is
Utah School Superintendent.
When Utah applied for statehood in 1894, it was required to include
a plan for educating its citizens in its proposed state constitution.
This requirement followed the tradition of all other sovereign states
that had joined the union. Now, Utah is
addressing the biggest education issue since statehood: Who controls
Utah's recent legislative session delayed the final vote
for a bill that would have Utah prioritize
resources for state goals first and federal goals as it can afford to
do so. The bill received unanimous approval in the state House and unanimous
approval in a preliminary vote in the state Senate. Utah's governor requested that the final vote be delayed
until April pending further negotiations with the U.S. Department of
The United States Constitution, every state constitution and innumerable
court decisions reserve authority for education to the states. No Child
Left Behind (NCLB) ignores that constitutional authority and seeks to
impose hundreds of pages of federal regulation over Utah's education system. These constitutional issues were
even acknowledged in the federal law creating the Education Department.
That law states "the establishment of the Department of Education
shall not increase the authority of the federal government over education
or diminish the responsibility for education which is reserved to the
Utahans do not believe that the one-size-fits-all approach under NCLB
is appropriate. Utahans think it's inappropriately intrusive for the
federal government to insert itself into contract negotiations between
locally elected school boards and individual citizens as it tries to
regulate teachers under NCLB. And Utahans do not believe that the approximately
6% of budget monies coming from the federal government should control
100% of state education policy. If the federal government desires to
assist Utah and other states, it should divide the $60 billion in
federal education funding and return it to the states.
Much has been written about the funding problems and the inadequacies
of NCLB. But the bigger issue that should alarm every American is one
of constitutionality. This is not just a question of who should be involved
in the classroom. This is a question of rights and responsibilities
as defined in Utah's constitution and the U.S. Constitution.
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States hit back
on school reform law
and Texas are either refusing to adopt all of the No Child Left
Behind Act or suing the US to block it.
By Alexandra Marks, Christian Science Monitor Staff writer, 4/19/05
KILLINGWORTH, CONN. An education rebellion is under way from Utah to Connecticut.
Three years after the passage of President Bush's controversial education
reform known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the law is facing its most
significant challenges yet - and they're coming in the courts, state
legislatures, and local education departments.
Connecticut has announced it's suing the US Department of Education,
claiming the law mandates changes without giving the funding to carry
them out. The education commissioner in Texas unilaterally decided Washington's requirements were flawed, and she simply disregarded
part of them - a kind of civil disobedience.
And Tuesday, Utah, the state that gave Mr. Bush his biggest win last
November, is about to provide the most stinging rebuke yet to NCLB.
In a special session, the state Senate is expected to pass overwhelmingly
a bill to ensure that in a conflict between state and federal education
regulations, Utah's rules will trump Washington's dictates. The House has already passed the bill, and
if the Senate does as well, Utah is putting at risk $120 million it receives in federal
"The paramount question is who runs this show: Is it state and
local government or Washington?" says state Sen. Thomas Hatch (R).
"Are we going to let the federal government contribute a very small
percentage of the education budget and dictate what we can or cannot
do, or are we going to maintain control at the local level?"
The local rebellions come on the heels of an announcement by US Education
Secretary Margaret Spellings that the department intends to exercise
more flexibility than under her predecessor in addressing states' concerns
about the law. NCLB requires annual testing in Grades 3 to 8 and sets
out penalties for schools that fail to show "adequate yearly progress."
In making the announcement, however, Secretary Spellings said there
were certain "bright lines of the statute," such as reporting
annual testing results by student subgroups, that "are not up for
negotiation." This led some frustrated state officials like Connecticut
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to refer to any new flexibility
as "more rhetoric than reality."
Historically, there's always been tension between states and federal
government on education reform. When President Clinton tried to implement
new standards, he also met resistance, often from Democratic governors.
Now Bush finds himself facing similar concerns from some Republican
governors, including Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell.
Yet the heightened frustrations are also coming at a time when most
states are reporting some success in raising test scores. While they
insist that's in part because of state reforms put in place before NCLB
became law, they do acknowledge it's had some positive effect.
"But they also see two big problems with the law: its rigid rules
and lack of help for schools that have been identified as not doing
well," says Jack Jennings, executive director of the nonpartisan
Center on Education Policy in Washington, which has done the most extensive
studies yet of the impact of NCLB. "The law is good at identifying
them, but the money isn't there to help them."
That's Connecticut's main concern. It contends that complying with NCLB's
testing requirements would cost state taxpayers an additional $8 million
For 20 years, Connecticut has tested in the fourth, sixth, eighth, and 10th grades.
Washington wants the state to add tests in the third, fifth, and
seventh grades. The state says it would rather use the money to fund
problem areas it has identified. "Our children are robbed of the
resources they need ... to improve their classrooms and educations,"
says Mr. Blumenthal.
The state is also arguing that because Washington is not providing enough money to implement its requirements,
NCLB is essentially an unfunded mandate and this is in violation of
its own law.
The US Department of Education counters that it has provided enough
funds, noting that Connecticut has received $750 million to implement NCLB.
Raymond Simon, assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education,
says it's "disappointing" that Connecticut chose a legal challenge. "The additional federal
funds that have been given to the states have been sufficient and in
record amounts," he says.
The department also points out that minorities score significantly lower
than whites in the state, and it argues that NCLB could force improvement.
In Texas, the concern is about the federal requirement that children
with disabilities and those who are still learning English be tested
using the same grade-level standards applied to others. With Spellings's
announcement of more flexibility, 3 percent of students will be exempt
from the grade-level tests - a percentage decided on by the department,
based on nationwide averages. But Texas
decided to exempt 9 percent, contending that including the scores of
children with disabilities unfairly skews test results.
"In Texas, it's just an out-and-out case of civil disobedience,"
says David Shreve, an education expert at the National Conference of
State Legislatures in Denver. "They're saying it just doesn't work here, and
we're not going to follow it."
The US Department of Education has given Texas until the end of this week to come up with an alternative
that will not exempt so many students. If it doesn't, Spellings has
threatened to cut some of Texas'
federal funds. Mr. Simon refused to comment on the Texas situation, saying instead he was waiting for its reply.
But he insists that NCLB is working and that this is no time to be talking
about fundamental changes. "The achievement gap is narrowing and
student achievement is up, so now is not the time to deviate from the
mission to weaken or back down on the standards," he says. "We'll
work with states to continue to make it less bureaucratic and easier
for the states to accomplish the mission."
For their part, the states don't disagree with the law's fundamental
mission, just the way the DOE is implementing it.
"NCLB is absolutely desirable in concept and goals. No one disagrees
with its objectives," says Blumenthal of Connecticut. "It's
the implementation that's so faulty - the one-size-fits-all approach
and the inflexibility on unfunded mandates."
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Teachers union, school districts sue over No Child
Ben Feller, Associated Press
WASHINGTON - The nation's largest teachers union and school districts
in three states are launching a legal fight over No Child Left Behind,
aiming to free schools from complying with any part of the education
law not paid for by the federal government.
The lawsuit, expected to be filed today in the U.S. District Court for
eastern Michigan, is the most sweeping challenge to President Bush's
signature education policy. The outcome would apply only to the districts
involved but could have implications for all schools nationwide.
Leading the fight is the National Education Association, a union of
2.7 million members that represents many public educators and is financing
the lawsuit. The other plaintiffs are nine school districts in Michigan, Texas
and Vermont, plus 10 NEA chapters in those three states and Connecticut, Illinois,
Indiana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Utah.
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, as the chief officer of the
agency that enforces the law, is the only defendant. The suit centers
on a question that has overshadowed the law since Bush signed it in
2002: whether the president and Congress have provided enough money.
The challenge is built upon one paragraph in the law that says no state
or school district can be forced to spend its money on expenses the
federal government has not covered.
"What it means is just what it says that you don't have
to do anything this law requires unless you receive federal funds to
do it,'' said NEA general counsel Bob Chanin.
"We want the Department of Education to simply do what Congress
told it to do. There's a promise in that law, it's unambiguous, and
it's not being complied with.''
The plaintiffs want a judge to order that states and schools don't have
to spend their own money to pay for the law's expenses and order
the Education Department not to try to yank federal money from a state
or school that refuses to comply based on those grounds.
Spending on No Child Left Behind programs has increased 40 percent since
Bush took office, from $17.4 billion to $24.4 billion, federal figures
show. The Bush administration has repeatedly said schools have enough
money to make the law work.
Yet the suit accuses the government of shortchanging schools by at least
$27 billion, the difference between the amount Congress authorized and
what it has spent. The shortfall is even larger, the suit says, if the
figures include all promised funding for poor children.
The suit, citing a series of cost studies, outlines billions of dollars
in expenses to meet the law's mandates. They include the costs of adding
yearly testing, getting all children up to grade level in reading and
math, and ensuring teachers are highly qualified.
To cover those costs, the suit says, states have shifted money away
from such other priorities as foreign languages, art and smaller classes.
The money gap has hurt schools' ability to meet progress goals, which
in turn has damaged their reputations, the suit says.
Plaintiffs include the Pontiac School District in Michigan, the Laredo Independent School
in Laredo, Texas; the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union in Brandon, Vt.; and six of the school districts that are part of Rutland
Northeast in south central Vermont.
The NEA promised to bring the suit almost two years ago and began recruiting
states to be plaintiffs. But the union found no takers in part
because states had no firm cost estimates, and in part because states
were wary of the political fallout of suing the federal government.
More than a dozen states, however, are considering anti-No Child Left
Behind legislation this year. On Tuesday, the Utah Legislature passed
a measure giving state education standards priority over federal ones
imposed by No Child Left Behind.
The school districts involved in the lawsuit give the NEA the diversity
it wanted, from rural Vermont students to limited-English learners in Laredo to poor students in Pontiac. In the suit, Spellings is accused of violating both
the education law and the spending clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The NEA and the Bush administration have had a testy relationship.
When the union first promised the lawsuit, then-Education Secretary
Rod Paige accused the NEA of putting together a "coalition of the
whining.'' He later referred to the NEA as a "terrorist organization''
for the way it opposed the law, a comment for which he later apologized.
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Mixup kept district
from getting mental health funds
BY FREDERIC J. FROMMER, AP, 4/22/05
WASHINGTON -- A missing signature disqualified a grant proposal
for mental health and conflict resolution aid for the Minnesota school district where a student last month killed seven
people, federal officials confirmed Thursday.
Last summer, the Beltrami Area Service Collaborative, which includes
the Red Lake Indian Reservation and three other school districts in
the state, applied for a three-year, $3 million Safe Schools/Healthy
The Education Department rejected the application because one of the
school districts had its business manager, rather than its superintendent,
sign the paperwork.
The grant would have paid for services such as mental health, conflict
resolution and substance abuse, said John Pugleasa, the collaborative's
In March, 16-year-old Jeff Weise shot to death a school security guard,
five students and a teacher at Red Lake High School before killing himself.
Earlier, Weise killed his grandfather and his grandfather's girlfriend
at their home.
With the grants, Pugleasa said, ''perhaps we would have been better
able to respond'' after the shootings.
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Gov. Seeks More
Charter Schools as the Key to Improving Education
By Erika Hayasaki, Los
Times Staff Writer, 4/22/05
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Thursday that charter schools are key
to improving education in California
and announced plans to make it easier for failing campuses to convert
Speaking at the opening of Accelerated Charter School's newly expanded
130,000-square-foot campus, Schwarzenegger called the school in one
of the city's poorest neighborhoods "a great model, not only for
schools in Los Angeles and California, but for the rest of the nation."
California Secretary of Education Richard Riordan, Los Angeles Mayor
James K. Hahn and Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Roy Romer
also attended the event, which celebrated the kindergarten- through-eighth-grade
South Los Angeles campus that also will serve high school students over
the next two years.
Charter schools are publicly funded campuses free from many state regulations.
They offer innovative curricula under a more stringent state accountability
With more than 500 charter schools in California, Schwarzenegger said he plans to organize community
coalitions to build additional charters "as fast as possible."
He said he wants to help parents whose children attend state-monitored
schools petition the state Board of Education for charter schools.
"Charter schools are pathfinders in education using new teaching
methods, setting more guidelines and giving more choices to parents
in our public schools," Schwarzenegger said.
As he called for more charters, some education leaders criticized the
governor's decision to withhold $2 billion owed to schools under Proposition
98, money which also is intended to benefit charter campuses. "You
can't praise charter schools and cut Prop. 98 at the same time because
you will kill the charter schools who rely on Prop. 98," said L.A.
Unified school board member David Tokofsky.
Caprice Young, executive director of the nonprofit California Charter
Schools Assn., said charter campuses are underfunded, but praised the
governor's support for the movement and noted that he vetoed legislation
last year that would have eroded charters' flexibility.
The modern Accelerated School campus, on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Main Street, includes 36 classrooms that will serve 1,050 students.
It offers a rooftop basketball court and amphitheater, a library and
community health center. Students learn in air-conditioned classrooms
and have access to flat-screen computers. School officials plan a professional
development center to train teachers and an early childhood development
Funding for the $50-million campus came from voter-approved school construction
bonds, state grants, private donations and a $10-million grant from
the Annenberg Foundation the largest ever made to an L.A. Unified
The school sets high expectations for all of its students. Teachers
are evaluated based on student performance. Parents and school staff
members are deeply involved in curriculum implementation, campus governance
and school decisions.
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