Stockton - To John Lang, the
best way to approach the complex job of serving as regional superintendent
of schools is to emphasize the "service" aspects of the position.
More specifically, the regional superintendent should try to make it
as easy as possible for school districts to comply with new state rules
and regulations, Lang said.
"My biggest approach, I think, has been the service, to try and
make the system work for everybody," Lang said. "When a new
rule or regulation comes out, or a change takes place, I think our approach
has been to try and make it easy for people (to comply). ... If we can
do it cooperatively, we save everybody money and time."
Lang, 60, of rural East
Dubuque is retiring
this week after 26 years in office as regional superintendent for the
Regional Office of Education covering Carroll, Jo Daviess, and Stephenson
counties. His last day is Monday, and the current assistant superintendent
for the ROE, Marie Stiefel, will be Lang's replacement.
Although he said it was a tough decision to make, Lang felt the time
was right to retire, considering his age and the fact that he wants
to spend more time with his family. Two of Lang's sons, James and John,
recently returned from active military service in Iraq, which only strengthened Lang's urge to want to "stop
and smell the roses" and enjoy his family while he still can. Lang
also has a wife, daughter and three grandchildren.
"You see those pictures from Iraq and you go, 'Wow,'" Lang said of his sons' military
service. "It's been, in some way, a tough decision when you walk
away from a profession that has been so much of your life. I have 38
actual years of service in Illinois education, and 29 of them have been spent in this office.
That's a quarter of a century."
Lang grew up in Chicagoland, and early on spent his summers working
on his family's farms in Indiana. He received his bachelor's degree from ChicagoStateUniversity, majoring in business education, with minors in English
and social studies.
Lang started out in the education industry as a business education teacher
in the East Aurora school system, where he also taught some English and
history courses. He came to northwest Illinois after securing a position as high school principal in
East Dubuque, then became the assistant regional superintendent for
Jo Daviess County.
He was an assistant in that regional office for three years, then ran
for the regional superintendent position when the Carroll and Jo Daviess
County regional offices combined. The regional superintendent position
is very "diverse" and can be divided into two areas - supervisory
and service, Lang said.
As a supervisor, Lang, among other things, has to oversee compliance
reviews and annual building inspections for the school districts in
his region to make sure each district is in compliance with state laws,
administrative rules and building codes. Even so, Lang believes the
"real value of the office" is the service side of his job,
which he has tried to emphasize during his 26 years as regional superintendent.
An example of this service-oriented approach was when the state approved
a requirement that districts have to run legal notices regarding prevailing
wages, which are the hourly wages paid in the largest city in each county
to the majority of workers, laborers and mechanics. These wages are
established by the Department of Labor.
Rather than having each school district run its own notice, the regional
office organized a joint notice that runs in the newspaper in each county
of the region, saving the districts time and money, Lang said.
In addition, the regional office handles the paperwork and documentation
for a cooperative grant for teacher quality and class size reduction
in an attempt to make the grant process easier for individual districts,
"It's a small thing, but it just makes everybody more efficient,"
Lang said. "If everybody has to do the same paperwork over and
over again, there's no benefit."
The most challenging part of the job is the "constant change"
the regional office experiences as the state approves new requirements,
Lang said. For example, the state passed a law last year requiring that
all schools eventually have defibrillators in all PE facilities.
In addition, there have been many recent changes in teacher certification
requirements, and the paperwork for those requirements has to go through
the regional office, Lang said.
"The pace of change has picked up tremendously," Lang said.
"Our role is to assist (the districts) in implementing (new regulations)."
According to Stiefel, Lang has been an "incredible mentor"
both to her and to the newer superintendents in the different districts.
She said she hopes to keep the office running as well as Lang has been
"I always figure I kind of learned from the best," Stiefel
Lang said he is proud of several initiatives he helped implement during
his time as regional superintendent, including the Regional Alternative
Program established for students with behavior problems in 1997, and
the increase in staff development over the past 10 years with many more
teachers now taking college credit courses, which are offered in this
Although he did not mention any specific plans, Lang said he will likely
seek part-time employment after he retires. TOP OF PAGE
Pension law puts
districts on hook
End-of-career raises greater than 6% shift burden from Teachers' Retirement
By Bernard Schoenburg, State Journal-Register Staff Writer, 6/26/05
As of the 1998-99 school year, ChathamGlenwoodHigh
band director, Don Udey, had been a teacher for nearly three decades.
With extra compensation for a variety of activities, including directing
the jazz band and working on a musical, his pay that year came to $63,043.
When Udey retired at the end of the 2002-03 school year, he still had
the same responsibilities. But his salary amounted to $100,270 - a 59
percent increase from four years earlier.
People agree Udey was a fine teacher. Some even compare him to Richard
Dreyfuss' inspiring music teacher in the movie "Mr. Holland's Opus."
But he got those big end-of-career raises under an early retirement
incentive written into the Ball-ChathamSchool
teachers contract. The deal allows up to four long-time district employees
per year to receive 20 percent increases in gross salary for two years.
And that, in turn, allows the employees to retire with significantly
Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration challenged that system this spring
because it is the state Teachers' Retirement System, not local school
districts, that pay most public school teacher pensions statewide (the
Chicago Public Schools have their own pension plan).
Teacher pensions are based on a teacher's top four years of pay during
their final 10 years on the job. Maximum retirement pay, for people
with at least about 35 years on the job, is 75 percent of their average
pay for those four years.
"Now, I believe teachers are underpaid and under-appreciated,"
Blagojevich said in his budget address in February. "But rather
back-loading salaries as they're about to leave the profession, wouldn't
it be better to pay them more money throughout their careers?
"If a local school district or a university wants to award big
end-of-career raises, they still can. But if they do, they should assume
the majority of the costs. Taxpayers across Illinois shouldn't have to pay billions of dollars more in increased
pension costs just to cover those end-of-career raises."
The governor proposed capping teacher pay raises to 3 percent per year,
which he said would save $17 billion over 40 years. By the time the
pension reforms became law, such raises were limited to 6 percent annually.
However, the new limits won't kick in until existing teacher contracts
expire, which will be in August 2006 for Ball-Chatham.
Districts would still be able to give higher late-career raises, but
any district that does so would have to pay the resulting extra pension
Ball-Chatham School Superintendent Richard Voltz said the extra pension
expense "certainly will have to be taken into account" the
next time a teachers contract is negotiated.
"Obviously, we'd love to keep the (early retirement incentive),
but we see that's not doable," said Bob Cox, president of the Ball-Chatham
Education Association, the teachers union. "Hopefully, we can come
up with a way to reward teachers over a longer period of time and still
get the end result."
The early retirement incentive isn't the only late-career boost teachers
can get in Ball-Chatham. As of the 2005-06 school year, teachers in
their last year can get not only the average 5 percent annual increase
in the contract, but a 17 percent bonus.
Linda Hittmeier, a former president of the Ball-Chatham Education Association,
said many teachers are not eligible for Social Security or full Medicare
benefits, increasing the importance of their pensions.
Hittmeier noted that Udey has a master's degree, "was there early
and stayed late," oversaw jazz band and marching band, and, in
that role, had to be at basketball and football games.
"He worked a lot harder than a lot of people making more money
than he did," Hittmeier said. "No one in education works harder
than classroom teachers, and they are not paid the most."
Hittmeier, 55, a high school math teacher, is retiring after the next
school year and is one of the people who will benefit from the late-career
pay raise option. Her salary was $49,030 in 2001-02, but will climb
to $75,032 next year.
Others include Gary Goldasich, a high school driver's ed teacher, who
made $49,752 in 2001-02 and will make $80,299 next year; Gary Funderburk,
a fifth-grade teacher who over the same years will see his pay go from
$49,752 to $80,299; and Michalene McAtee, a high school English teacher
whose pay will be $76,492, up from $47,392 in 2001-02.
Udey declined to be interviewed for this article.
Charles McBarron, director of communications for the Illinois Education
Association, the statewide union with which teachers in Chatham and Springfield are affiliated, said his association supported the state
pension changes despite "grave reservations about reducing the
moderate benefits that our members receive."
The 6 percent cap was a compromise, McBarron said.
"You work 30 years, you're essentially underpaid as a professional,"
McBarron said, saying that the top teacher pay in some rural districts
is $31,000 to $35,000, with the state average about $50,000. The end-of-career
bonuses, he said, "didn't quite level out the playing field, but
it did help a little bit."
In 2003-04, the highest-paid Ball-Chatham retiree was elementary school
music teacher Maureen Best, who made $87,206 in her final year, up from
$55,253 in 1999-2000.
"I think teachers deserve a little perk like that," said Best,
55, a former vice president of the district's teachers union.
She said she taught for 33 years and has a master's degree and 40 credit
hours beyond the master's, much of it paid for at her own expense.
"I admit that I was in the right place at the right time,"
John Day, spokesman for the Teachers' Retirement System, said
the system has 325,000 members and retirees.
The TRS had assets totaling $33.1 billion as of March 1, but the state's
contribution to the system will go from $959 million last year to $534
million because the same pension legislation that rolled back the size
of pay raises also enacted a "holiday" for state contributions
to public employee pension systems. Without the holiday, Day said, the
state was scheduled to contribute more than $1 billion in the fiscal
year that begins July 1.
"It was essentially a 50 percent cut," he said of the pension
"The major long-term impact is that ultimately the taxpayers will
have to spend more because we will not have been able to invest these
dollars," Day said. The TRS estimates that for every dollar not
received by the system over the two years of the pension "holiday,"
$7 will have to be paid later.
The governor's office says long-term savings from the pension changes
will make up for the money not paid into pension systems for the next
The new legislation also increased pension contributions made by teachers
from 9 percent of salary to 9.4 percent.
The IEA's McBarron said he thinks newspaper stories about highly paid
superintendents who got "humongous pensions" after end-of-career
bumps in pay helped lead to the new legislation.
"That is certainly not what we see happening to Illinois teachers throughout the state," McBarron said.
The Chicago Sun-Times has reported that superintendents in the Palatine
Township Elementary District and the NewTrierTownshipHighSchool
each got end-of-career bonuses that brought their final pay to more
than $345,000. TOP OF PAGE
Use Hidden Tax to Evade Property Tax Caps
By John W. Skorburg, visiting lecturer in economics at the University
of Illinois, Chicago and associate editor of Budget & Tax News,
Heartland Institute, 7/1/05
Hundreds of school districts across Illinois have sharply increased a special tax that is meant to
pay for legal claims and insurance expenses, some of them apparently
doing so to divert the money to other purposes.
In some school districts, the amounts collected for the obscure "tort
immunity fund" tax have skyrocketed several hundred percent over
the past five years, with much of the money going to fund the salaries
of teachers, administrators, and other personnel. Most local taxpayers
do not know about the increases, because the tax does not show up on
property tax bills.
The improprieties were revealed in a special report released in April
by The Illinois Business RoundTable (IBRT), a voluntary association
of chief executive officers of the state's leading businesses.
Districts 'Gaming the System'
"This is a litmus issue for taxpayers and the schools they support.
Either districts are keeping the faith with their taxpayers--and the
vast majority of school districts are--or they're gaming the system,"
said Jeff Mays, IBRT president.
According to the IBRT, 836 school districts reported data for 2002 and
2003. Tort tax extensions, the total amount billed to property owners,
were as follows:
- 50 school districts increased their extensions more than 100 percent;
- 52 school districts increased their extensions between 50 and 100
- 90 school districts increased their extensions between 20 and 49 percent;
- 126 school districts increased their extensions between 10 and 19
- 208 school districts increased their extensions between 1 and 9 percent;
- 241 school districts had either negligible increases or decreases
in their extensions.
More than 50 school districts that submitted data were left out of the
analysis because certain information for 2002 or 2003 was unavailable.
Some Increases Astronomical
Some school districts had astronomical increases in their tort immunity
tax extensions from 2002 to 2003.
The IBRT analysis showed WalthamSchool
185 in LaSalleCounty had a nearly 899 percent increase, from $10,015 in 2002
to $100,021 in 2003. Grayslake Community High School District 127 in
LakeCounty increased its extension 705 percent, from $62,781 to
$505,417. Niles Township Community High School District 219 in CookCounty hiked its extension 595 percent, from $222,134 to $1,545,000.
Of the 836 districts, 158 received more than 10 percent of their total
property tax levy from the tort immunity tax, according to the study.
According to the IBRT report, "it has become apparent that some
units of local government are using the tax revenue to fund expenses
more properly paid for from general operating funds. These uses of the
revenue are inconsistent with the limited purpose of the tax authorization."
State law allows school districts to "levy an annual tax upon the
value of the taxable property within its territory as equalized or assessed
by the Department of Revenue at a rate that will produce a sum sufficient
to pay the cost of settlements or judgments," as well as the costs
of liability and property insurance premiums and risk management programs.
Unlike other local school taxes, whose maximum rates are limited, there
is no limit on the tax rate for the tort immunity levy.
At least four Illinois public school districts and a community college are
being sued over their use of the tort tax. Plaintiffs allege much of
the money has been illegally diverted from its stated purpose.
'Outright Abuse' Charged
"I am asking the court to rule that you can't use a tort fund levy
to pay for salaries in the manner that the school districts are presently
doing it," said Freeport attorney Robert Slattery,
who represents plaintiffs in the five cases. "It is illegal in
Illinois to levy a tax for one purpose and then to divert those
funds and spend them for another purpose. That is what the taxing districts
Slattery said that in the past three years, Illinois schools have collected more than $1 billion in tort
fund levies. "According to my estimates, from $600 million to $700
million dollars or more of these levies are illegal, and the funds are
being illegally diverted to pay for salaries," Slattery said.
Slattery's crusade against misuse of the tort tax goes back to at least
2001, when he sued HighlandCommunity
in Freeport. Slattery has also filed lawsuits against the CoalCity, Freeport,
Pearl City, and Quincy school districts.
None of the cases has been decided, but Slattery expects a ruling in
one of the cases by the end of June.
Money Shifted to General Fund
In an April 20 article, Chicago Tribune reporter Diane Rado found 2003-2004 financial reports of Chicago-area school
districts showed "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."
CoalCity school superintendent Kent Bugg told Rado 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 classes." He also said the district worked
"closely with its attorneys to ensure the expenditures were appropriate."
Districts Vulnerable to Judgments
The IBRT's Mays fears that with tort money paying for salaries, school
districts won't have enough left over if they have to pay a legal judgment.
"What happens when you have a legal decision rendered against a
district, if that district is already spending significant dollars from
this tax for operating salaries?" asked Mays. "In that district,
if 12 percent of the teachers' salaries are coming from this tort fund,
will the district reduce salaries by 12 percent to pay the claim, or
lay off 12 percent of the teachers?
"Clearly, neither choice is appropriate. That's why the law enabling
districts to apply an 'extraordinary' tax for claims and settlements
was created in the first place," Mays said. TOP OF PAGE
SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich has announced his intention
to advance the final two state aid payments to schools for the current
fiscal year, an action that some say is critical for school districts
around the state as they try to keep their own budgets balanced.
In past years of revenue shortfalls, governors delayed the 23rd and
24th state aid payments until the following fiscal year. This is problematic
for school districts, which budget the final two payments as part of
their current fiscal year that ends June 30. School district officials
say delaying the payments until July would create a serious cash-flow
problem for them. After taking office in 2003, the governor committed
to ending the practice of delaying these payments.
"Weve made tremendous progress since 2003 to infuse our schools
with critical new funding, and delaying these payments would only move
that progress backwards," Blagojevich said."For the third
consecutive year, I am directing that these payments be made on time
so school districts can have piece of mind as they finalize their budgets."
In a letter Thursday to Comptroller Dan Hynes and Treasurer Judy Baar
Topinka, the governor asked them to transfer approximately $300 million
on Friday from the general revenue fund to the common school fund, so
the July payments to school districts can be made early.Payment needs
to be sent out by this time in order for school districts to receive
it by the end of the month.Hynes has indicated that it is his belief
sufficient funds exist to make the final two payments. TOP OF PAGE
FREEPORT - State school officials are trying to publicize an
Illinois School Purchasing Network to save districts money.
"I think it will be a good way for districts to save money without
much risk," said Becky Watts, an Illinois School Board of Education
The purchasing network would partner the state with U.S. Communities,
a not-for-profit organization located in California. The way it works is a member of U.S. Communities becomes
the lead public agency to bid on a product. Because the product is open
to the larger group of members, the vendor will often give the lowest
possible price, Watts said. Members of the cooperative can then buy an individual
product at what is essentially a bulk price.
Purchasing through U.S. Communities has been an option to school districts
for some time. FreeportSchool
145 has used the service for several years, said Patrick McDermott,
assistant superintendent for business.
"(Gov. Rod) Blagojevich is trying to take credit for what already
existed," McDermott said.
The district does look at what U.S. Communities has for purchases like
desks or paper, but often finds better deals on its own, he added. The
service often has products the district doesn't need.
"You can usually check with them and see what they have before
you buy new stuff," McDermott said.
Not all districts know about the service, which is part of the reason
the State Board of Education is trying to publicize the network, Watts
Wanda Herrmann, superintendent of DakotaCommunityUnitSchool
201, learned about the service from press releases and might see what
savings U.S. Communities can offer.
"Our school district believes in those types of purchasing cooperatives,"
she said. "I think we always look at ways to reduce costs."
However, the district will also need to consider quality, and cheaper
is not always better, she added.
201 passed a somewhat controversial dress code, several threats of litigation
were made by irritated parents.
In a somewhat surprise turn of events, a lawsuit ended up coming from
one of District 201's own school board members. Board member Judy Cates,
a lawyer herself, is suing the school district for violating the Open
According to Illinois State Law, meetings may be closed for several
specific reasons. Discussing personnel, negotiating the purchase or
sale of property, dealing with litigation, and reviewing closed meetings
minutes are all viable reasons for holding a closed session.
According to the lawsuit, Cates is alleging that it is illegal to hold
a closed session meeting before the open session is called to order.
In e-mail correspondence, Cates raises this as a concern to Dr. Brent
Clark, Superintendent of District 201.
"How can a Board not yet constituted go into closed session without
a vote and without stating on the public record the reason for going
in to closed session?" Cates wrote. "With all due respect,
I think this violates Illinois law."
"It's a board prerogative as to when they schedule their meetings,"
Cates said that it does matter when a board schedules their meetings.
She said that having a closed meeting without an open meeting that allows
the public to attend is illegal.
"You can't go into closed session without the meeting being open,"
Cates said. "You have to have a meeting before you can close it."
Cates originally brought this issue up when she received her agenda
for the April 25 meeting that stated the open meeting would begin at
, 90 minutes after the closed meeting. The public is
not allowed to attend closed meetings.
After Cates voiced her concern on April 21, she received a revised agenda.
This agenda changed the open meeting time to Once the meeting started, the board moved into a closed session.
Jim Williams, Cates' lawyer, said that holding a closed session meeting
before the open session probably has a specific purpose.
"Obviously, the answer is to line up what you're going to do in
the open session," Williams said.
Williams also said that in some cases the board has had certain discussions
that aren't covered by the Open Meetings Act exceptions.
"The public has a right to know about that kind of stuff,"
Cates said that when she first became a board member, she stumbled upon
this practice when she reviewed the closed session minutes.
"It's very clear from these minutes that certain topics were not
appropriate to discuss in closed session," Cates said.
Williams said that both he and his client tried to keep this matter
out of court. However, in the end taking the issue to court was the
only viable option.
In filing the suit, Williams said all that he and his client are seeking
is for the school district to adhere to the Open Meetings Act.
"The only thing that can be done is for the district to follow
the correct procedure," Williams said.
Cates said that she has served on several publics governing bodies,
and the District 201 school board is the first group that has had difficulty
in following the Open Meetings Act.
"I do know that having been on public bodies in which I've
been involved we've been able to follow it," Cates said.
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- Some grade school students will have to visit
the dentist if they want to collect their end-of-year report cards,
under a law that goes into effect Friday.
School officials already require students of certain ages to prove they
have received vaccinations and general health screenings, but now students
attending kindergarten, second and sixth grades would be required to
undergo dental checkups.
Still, children wouldn't be barred from school for not complying, and
waivers would be permitted in certain cases.
The dentist and lawmaker who sponsored the measure, Rep. David Miller,
said requiring kids to get dental exams is important to establish hygiene
habits that will save money in the long run and improve children's education.
"Dental disease and dental pain is one of the primary reasons children
miss school," said Miller, D-Dolton.
Illinois Department of Public Health spokeswoman Jennifer Williams also
cited research that has determined dental problems can lead to other
"If you don't have proper oral health, it has been associated with
heart disease and respiratory illness and low-birthweight babies,"
But parents and kids who don't follow the new rules won't face any consequences
until mid-May. That's because the only penalty is for the school to
withhold a child's final report card.
The legislation originally barred children from enrolling until they
had gone to the dentist, but opposition from school administrators led
to the compromise of withholding the final report card for children
who don't comply.
Stephanie Travis, a Springfield resident and mother of an 8-year-old girl, said she
has mixed feelings about the new rule. She questions adding another
chore to the long list of schools' responsibilities, but she admits
some parents are lax about taking children to the dentist.
"I'm hoping they're doing it to make parents get up off their butts,"
Ben Schwarm, a lobbyist for school administrators, has similar concerns
about overloading schools.
Schwarm said getting more children to visit dentists is a good thing,
but lawmakers must be careful not to overburden teachers and principals
with health responsibilities that should fall on parents.
He said some lawmakers also want schools to monitor whether parents
have given their children vision and lead poisoning screenings, but
those efforts have been defeated.
"Certainly, the local school district cannot be the police for
all these things," Schwarm said.
The Public Health Department said it is still determining which children
would be eligible for dental checkup waivers.
A student would likely be exempt from the dental exam requirement if
monetary constraints or a lack of dental access prevented the child
from visiting a dentist, Miller said. The legislation also allows a
Schools and districts in Illinois
will have an easier time meeting federal No Child Left Behind law testing
standards this year, thanks to changes approved by Washington education officials Tuesday, the Chicago Sun-Times has
That's because fewer students' test scores will count.
Illinois says it sought the changes to avoid unjustly labeling
schools as failing to measure up to No Child standards. Illinois is one of 43 states to request changes this year, many
of which relax standards.
Some critics accuse states of trying to game the system -- to make it
look as if more schools are at level when little has changed. Illinois insists that's not the case here.
"We certainly haven't backed down from accountability in any way,"
said Becky Watts, state Board of Education spokeswoman. "We just
want to make sure we're fair."
The No Child law says each school and each subgroup in a school -- including
racial and ethnic groups, as well as bilingual and special education
students -- must meet federal testing standards. In 2004, 40 percent
of students were to test at grade level. That rises to 47.5 percent
for 2005 test results.
Subgroup sizes change
That jump makes it harder for schools to measure up, but under changes
approved by the U.S. Education Department it will be easier for schools
to fly under the radar. The size of a subgroup will jump from 40 students
Last year, 42 special education students in a school were counted as
a subgroup. This year, they won't be counted. That means schools with
special needs subgroups will drop from 535 to 394.
Another change will affect large urban districts, such as Chicago's, where students change schools frequently. Last year,
a student's score at an individual school didn't count if they transferred
in after Oct. 1, even if they stayed through spring testing. Under the
new rules, students must be enrolled almost a year before testing to
have their scores count for their school.
Lieberman said Illinois proposed these changes after hearing from educators
statewide and from the General Assembly. She also looked at what other
"There are many ways to game the system," Lieberman said,
citing California, where the subgroup size can be as large as 100. "We
thought that was absurd. ... We could have gone more extreme on every
single issue. We selected what we thought was reasonable."
Federal officials reject the notion standards are watered down.
"It's about focusing the target and using the money and resources
on schools and students who need it most," said Chad Colby, an
Education Department spokesman.
Overdue fees that have gone unpaid by Unit 40 students led the school
board Monday to look at enforcement options, including hiring a collection
With over $10,000 in unpaid fees at the junior high and high school
level, Effingham Unit 40 Board of Education agreed to set up a procedure
to collect outstanding and future debt.
According to Superintendent Dan Clasby, the unpaid debt includes $3,480
in textbook fees at EffinghamHigh
and over $700 in textbook fees at EffinghamJunior
for the 2004-05 school year.
Clasby said the unpaid fees stem from "chronic cases," where
students have lost two or three textbooks and haven't paid for them.
According to Clasby, the parents of students who lose books are responsible
for paying for those books. Letters are sent out to parents informing
them of the overdue fees, but oftentimes those letters don't result
in payment, said Clasby, who added sometimes payments are made with
"We lose that money," said Clasby, adding it is unfortunate
the school would have to look to a collection agency to receive payment
for the books.
According to Clasby, the overdue fees are not the result of families
not being able to pay the fee.
"I really think we need to get proactive. I think this is the only
way to go that will work," he said. "It is a problem, and
I think it is a problem we need to address. We will do it properly."
In other fee-related matters, board members also agreed to adopt a policy
for charging meals to be implemented for students in preschool to eighth
The new policy states students only will be allowed to charge a total
of four meals, and at that point, the student must bring a sack lunch
and will not be able to participate in the cafeteria programs until
the account is paid in full
DISTRICT 214 -- Officials in Township High School District 214 rejected
a $196,000 poverty grant last week that is linked to the federal No
Child Left Behind law.
Administrators complained that the money for tutoring and other support
services for low-income students would benefit only a small percentage
of students targeted by the poverty grant--about 20 percent of the 952
If the Arlington Heights-based district took the grant, officials would
face sanctions under No Child Left Behind law if student scores on standardized
state tests don't improve this year. District officials say they have
their own plan to raise performance for all students.
A last-minute settlement between Gavin school officials and the CURB
Education Foundation may stave off the threat of a state takeover of
the districts finances.
Gavin attorney Rob Swain said late-night talks Tuesday between board
officials and CURB members produced a tentative agreement to settle
The settlement means $7 million in state financial aid that had been
frozen can be released to the district.
The district now has the money to repair GavinCentralSchool, and refund itself for the cost of closing Central and
The district can also pay for a lease agreement with LakeZurichMiddle
for next year.
More importantly, the settlement means the district will not be sending
a letter to the Illinois Board of Education requesting a voluntary financial
We are extremely relieved the lawsuit with CURB has been resolved,
school board President Barb Mende said. Im happy that the
district finances are not in dire straits anymore and that we can start
moving forward to take care of the things we were elected to do.
The lawsuit, filed by CURB in January, said state lawmakers acted unconstitutionally
in approving an increase in property taxes without a referendum.
As part of the settlement, the district must do what it can to ensure
Gavin Central on Route 59 in Ingleside will not be razed, Swain said.
The board is allowed to demolish certain portions of the facility as
needed, Swain said.
Essentially, the board must commit their best efforts to repair
Central rather than tear it down, Swain said. It doesnt
ban demolition, but the board must devote their best efforts to implement
a repair that is safe and sound.
District officials agreed to take on a financial oversight panel if
a settlement wasnt reached by today.
Had a financial oversight panel been installed, the district would have
lost control of its spending decisions. If spending did not curtail
under the oversight panel, the state could have seized control of the
district, imposed property tax increases and demolished Central.
The state still holds the right to take over the district, but that
appears unlikely because the district will turn in a balanced budget
Mende said art, music and gym classes originally scheduled to
be cut due to the districts bleak financial outlook can
return next year with the same teachers who were previously laid off.
We will be talking about that in the next week, Mende said.
Truly, this settlement can bring back everything that we have
lost over the past six months.
CURB president Ron SaLee said he was happy to have the lawsuit behind
him, even if he wasnt entirely happy with the settlement.
There were some language issues that I would have liked to see
changed, he said. But, (the settlement) had to happen. We
just wanted to make sure they were going to do the right thing, and
we are confident now that they will. TOP OF PAGE
A debate over the legality of band fees collected by Cary Elementary
District 26 is shining light on the difficulty of defining what constitutes
a free education in Illinois.
Even after receiving opinions from two attorneys, District 26 board
members are seeking more input on whether the $300 band fees the previous
board imposed were legal.
As an increasing number of districts charge for everything from science
textbooks to jazz band, school boards are splitting hairs to determine
whether they are charging activity fees or tuition, the latter prohibited
by board of education administrative rules.
Remarkably, there is relatively little guidance on this issue,
district attorney Kevin Gordon wrote.
In District 26, questions arose because band fees were applied to the
salary and benefits of the band instructors.
Band parents paid about $112,000, more than half of the programs
$195,000 total, which equaled the salary and benefits of three full-time
Last month, an attorney from the Illinois State Board of Education advised
the board that in public schools, instruction in a curricular program
must be free, though charges for equipment and materials are permissible.
However, Illinois School Code clearly states districts may charge fees
for extracurricular activities, even to offset the cost of salary and
Gordons opinion left District 26 in the bizarre position of deciding,
after the fact, whether last years band program was part of the
I dont know why this is as difficult as it is, board
President Craig Loew said. It does seem pretty foolish that you
cant determine if this is extracurricular or not.
The opinion that Gordon submitted to the board stated that extracurricular
activities are voluntary, not-for-credit programs that meet during non-school
Meanwhile, council for the Illinois State Board of Education said any
class or elective offered during the school day is part of the curriculum.
Its about as clear as mud, said Andrea Gorla, District
26 chief financial officer.
The districts Web site lists band under clubs and other
activities. Band students receive grades, but not credit. They
practice before school and, twice a week, during school, according to
Its all in the eye of the beholder, said Jerry Glaub,
a spokesman for the Illinois Association of School Boards. We
have classes in music, classes in art. Theyre curricular.
Extracurricular is something you do extra.
At a District 26 community engagement meeting Monday, new Superintendent
Mike Smith said the question should be not what is legal, but what is
Loew agreed. The financial is not the issue. Its
are we doing the right thing, he said.
Debate over band plays on at
July 11 at the Board of Education meeting at District 26 headquarters.
Teacher exodus plagues schools
Half of new instructors leave Michigan districts, which costs them money as well as young talent.
Joe Menard / The Detroit News
Nearly half of Michigan teachers are leaving the profession only a few years
after they begin, mirroring a national dilemma and causing headaches
for districts struggling to keep young educators.
"It wasn't what I imagined it to be. You have to deal with parents,
other teachers and administrators," says Erika Blakemore, 31, of
Ypsilanti, who taught at Detroit Public Schools from 2001 to 2004.
"It wasn't easy."
Low starting salaries, family obligations and lack of support are the
most common reasons that an estimated 50 percent of teachers leave the
profession in the first five years, says Richard Ingersoll, an associate
professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a national expert on teacher retention issues
and has published several academic papers on the subject using data
from a random sample of more than 50,000 teachers.
The problem is more profound in urban and rural districts where cash
is scarce, but no district is immune to retention issues, he says.
"There's heavy losses in the first few years," he says. "It's
an easy in, easy out profession. We have too much turnover. The solution
can't just be recruiting new people. It has to be retention."
Nationally, turnover and attrition cost school districts $2.6 billion
annually, according to the Seattle-based Alliance for Education. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates
it costs about 30 percent of a lost teacher's salary to recruit, hire
and train a replacement.
It also costs school districts in the form of younger, experienced teachers
on the brink of becoming veterans whom parents have come to trust, according
to Rochester Community Schools Trustee Mike Reno.
"By losing teachers who already have a few years of experience,
we're losing that sense of confidence that these seasoned teachers bring,"
he says. "Having a stable teaching work force helps assure parents.
Erik Howard left his teaching job at HolyRedeemerHigh
in 2002 after two years because he didn't feel he was making a big enough
impact in his students' lives.
"I wanted to be around youth who wanted to be there instead of
those who had to be there," says Howard, 26, who now works as a
youth director for the All Saints Neighborhood Center in Detroit. "I think education needs some major revamping.
It's an antique institution."
Support helps keep teachers
Frustration about school bureaucracies and a lack of support for new
teachers are major factors for teachers fleeing the profession, Ingersoll
"The data is pretty clear: Where you have more support, you keep
more teachers," he says.
Teachers who have left the classroom say they found very little support
from administrators at their schools, making them feel as if they were
on their own in a foreign world filled with impressionable children.
"There was no administrative support," says Nicholas Edmunds,
26, of Detroit, who worked in Detroit schools for two years before getting laid off last year.
He is now attending classes at EasternMichiganUniversity to get a degree in speech therapy. "I didn't receive
any help. It was a pretty bad experience."
To try to address the problem -- which Ingersoll says has been constant
since experts began tracking the problem about 15 years ago -- the state
and some school districts are taking a more proactive approach to retaining
State requires mentors
In 1993, the Michigan Legislature required school districts to provide
a mentor for new teachers for their first three years and provide 15
days of professional development in that time. And in January 2004,
the State Board of Education adopted mentoring standards designed to
further support new teachers.
But the success of the mentoring programs has been different across
school district lines. It is especially lacking in rural and urban communities
where the money to run such programs is scarce, Ingersoll says.
Blakemore says her mentor teachers were great and helped her stick out
her three years in Detroit, but that the support stopped there.
"I was being treated unfairly," she says. "In the three
years, I taught at three different schools. I was uprooted in the middle
of the semester."
A lack of stability also pushed Melissa Reisler of Waterford out of teaching. The 31-year-old taught elementary students
in Southfield public schools for four years before quitting to become
"Every year I moved to a different grade. I had four different
principals in the four years I was there," she says.
In addition to constantly changing classrooms and administrators, Reisler
had to deal with parents who either were not involved at all or were
too involved, she says.
"As a teacher, you have 35 bosses. Parents always thought they
knew more than I did," she says. "I think teaching is a thankless
That attitude stems from a "sink or swim" culture in schools,
says Margaret Trimer-Hartley, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Education
Association, the state's largest teachers union.
"It is taxing on our young teachers," she says. "There
should be a little better preparation for educators for what they're
Some districts have success
Some suburban districts have been successful at helping their young
teachers and getting them to stay. Two years ago, Plymouth-Canton Schools
began putting recent graduates through a new teacher orientation program
that pairs them with a teacher from their field who acts as a mentor
for their first few years. The district allows them to meet regularly
to discuss lesson plans and strategies for coping with parents and troublesome
"We provide release time for them to get together and talk,"
says Ray Bihun, executive director of human resources for the district.
He says only two teachers have voluntarily left the district since the
Livonia schools have a similar program that helps new teachers
find their footing, says Julie Springer, a first-year art teacher in
the district. "It's been a wonderful support system," she
Springer and her mentor, who has been a teacher in the district for
35 years, communicate daily via e-mail, talk on the phone once a week
and meet in person a few times a month.
"It gives you a lot of encouragement," Springer says.
Private competition hurts
But even with strong support systems, some districts find it hard to
compete financially with the private sector, which routinely recruits
math and science teachers out of education. The lure to the corporate
world is partly responsible for the math and science teacher shortage
in the state, Trimer-Hartley says.
Jeff Watson worked for three years as a high school math teacher in
the Plymouth-Canton district before the corporate world lured him away
with a higher salary. He went from making about $38,000 in his third
year of teaching to about $48,000 in his first year with the engineering
firm General Dynamics.
"They need to get the pay fixed," says Watson, who left teaching
in 1999 and since has seen his salary jump about $7,000 per year.
Though he liked working for the district, he was often frustrated by
low pay and a lack of basic supplies.
"There needs to be more resources available. Some of the equipment
was way out of date," he says. "I had to buy a lot of my own
Each Michigan teacher spends about $400 of his or her own money annually
on supplies, Trimer-Hartley says.
No Child law causes problems
The federal No Child Left Behind Act is making it harder for teachers
to succeed, Trimer-Hartley says. The law's test-based assessment system
is frustrating teachers who feel they must teach to the tests, and is
taking away their creativity, she says, leading them out of the profession.
The law is part of the reason Reisler left the profession.
"No Child Left Behind is just a nightmare," she says.
Motherhood also plays a role in the dilemma. An estimated 25 percent
of teachers who leave the field eventually come back, usually after
going home to raise families.
"I knew all my life what I wanted to do for a living was be a mom,"
says Beth Mayne, 33, of Royal Oak, who quit her job as a teacher in
the Bloomfield Hills district in 2001 after four years when she had
her first daughter. Since then, Mayne has had two other children and
doesn't plan on going back until they're in school.
In an effort to retain teachers who also want to be parents, districts
like East Detroit offer job-sharing programs for young parents. Teachers
work half the hours of a regular work week, allowing them to spend more
time with their children, says Lois Johnson, an assistant superintendent
Detroit Public Schools.
ATLANTA -- If you live near a major airport, your children might
have a harder time learning to read and memorizing their spelling lessons
than if you resided in a quieter area, a new study has found.
In the largest study of its kind, Stephen Stansfeld of the University of London's
Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry and colleagues found that near-constant noise not only
increased stress in youngsters but also made learning more difficult
and impaired their memory.
"This effect is significant," Stansfeld said. "In practical
terms, aircraft noise might have only a small effect on the development
of reading, but the effect of long-term exposure remains unknown."
The study suggests that schools shouldn't be built close to airports
and urges officials who decide such things to give "a wider consideration
of the effect of environmental stressors on children's cognitive development."
The scientists studied more than 2,800 children, ages 9 and 10, from
89 primary schools located near three major airports, one in the Netherlands,
the others in Spain and England.
They found that the reading age in children exposed to high levels of
aircraft noise was delayed as long as two months at the London school and as long as one month in the Netherlands, for a 5-decibel change in noise exposure.
In contrast, road traffic did not have an effect on reading but was
unexpectedly found to improve recall memory, Stansfeld said.
So why did they find in all three countries that aircraft noise affected
kids more than the constant din of speeding cars and trucks?
"One explanation is that the transient nature of aircraft flyovers,
which have high short-term levels, may disrupt the child's concentration
and distract them from learning tasks, while the more constant nature
of road traffic noise may allow children to habituate and not be distracted,"
said Dr. Charlotte Clark of the Center for Psychiatry at the University
of London, one of Stansfeld's colleagues.
And it's possible a certain amount of road traffic noise could improve
memory by causing "moderate levels of arousal, which can improve
task performance for simple tasks," she said.
The scientists, she said, feel it's important to keep schools in neighborhoods.
Also, "we feel it would be beneficial to insulate schools, including
roofs and walls. It may also be beneficial to create `quiet areas' within
Peter Rabinowitz of the Yale University School of Medicine said this
is not the first time schools near airports have come under study.
In one, 326 German schoolchildren were followed after the old Munich airport was replaced by a new international facility.
"Children attending schools near the airport improved their reading
scores and cognitive memory performance as the airport shut down--while
children going to school near the new airport experienced a decrease
in testing scores," he said in an accompanying article to the study,
just published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal The Lancet.
Maine Prepares NCLB
Lawsuit Frank Heller, School Reform
The state of Maine is moving to become the next state to sue the federal
government over the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). As many as 17 states
already have brought suit.
In late May, both houses of the state legislature passed a bill directing
the state to investigate the costs of implementing NCLB and compare
them to the federal funding allocated for compliance.
At press time, Maine's Department of Education (MDOE) was finishing a study
on what NCLB's testing requirements would cost the state, and it was
scheduled to send the report to the attorney general for review in June.
If the attorney general's office determines NCLB is an insufficiently
funded mandate, a lawsuit against the federal government could soon
Older Program Deemed Adequate
The issues behind the lawsuit have been simmering for 15 years. In the
early 1990s, State Sen. Michael Brennan (D-Portland), then a state representative,
sponsored a bill creating the state's Learning Results program--the
result of a decade-long effort to develop a broad range of educational
standards for each grade level, adapting standards from associations
such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
The program's guidelines were published in 1997. Under the plan, students
have been taking a battery of tests administered annually by local school
districts, as well as the state-run Maine Educational Assessment (MEA)
The complex, expensive testing process has yet to yield the desired
results. In 2004 only 12 percent of low-income high school juniors in
the state were proficient in math, and 13 percent were proficient in
science--yet most of them received diplomas the next year.
Despite this lack of success for the state's own Learning Results program,
in June 2003 Brennan sponsored a bill directing the MDOE to undertake
"a thorough investigation of the costs and benefits of participation
in NCLB." The bill, titled "Resolve, Regarding the No Child
Left Behind Act of 2001" (LD 676), passed May 24, 2005 by a vote of 85-58 in the state House. The Senate had passed it on May
Brennan said he wants Maine to return the NCLB money and stay with Learning Results.
"No Child Left Behind is the single most intrusive piece of federal
education legislation in the history of our nation. In a time of budget
cuts and [military] base closures, we just can't afford an unfunded
mandate," Brennan said. "NCLB could cost the state an additional
$100 million, and it hinders the implementation of the state's Learning
State Accepted NCLB Funds
The MDOE favors Learning Results over NCLB as well. In his written testimony
on LD 676, Deputy Commissioner Patrick Phillips said, "determining
the costs of NCLB has been a controversial issue. ... The most contentious
area has been defining what the federal law actually requires in terms
of student achievement ... and whether federal funds are 'adequate'
to allow student achievement."
One problem is that the state accepted the NCLB money and all the conditions
attached. According to the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE), Maine has seen a "47 percent funding increase over the
last five years while the student census has declined 30 percent."
Phillips, however, said the MDOE never requested additional funding
from USDOE, and that the state had even returned some of the money.
Nonetheless, Phillips estimated Maine needs approximately $11 million more to comply with
NCLB's accountability requirements, as well as any others that go beyond
those listed in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Complexities in the accounting process--including separating which administrators
are to be paid for routine tasks from federal, state, or local budget
accounts--make it difficult to determine whether the underfunding problem
exists because MDOE failed to estimate the full cost of administering
NCLB or because it failed to reallocate monies to administrative and
other tasks in a timely manner.
The prospect of President George W. Bush's achieving a stated second-term
goal of expanding the influence of the federal No Child Left Behind
Act (NCLB) in high school reform looked bleak after a series of congressional
actions this spring.
First, the U.S. House of Representatives registered bipartisan opposition
to the president's proposal for funding the NCLB expansion when it voted
416-9 to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education
Act on May 4. In his FY2006 budget, Bush proposed diverting Perkins'
$1.3 billion to a new $1.5 billion High School Initiative that would
include annual testing of all students and remedial intervention.
Earlier, the Senate had approved Perkins' reauthorization 99-0. Republican
and Democratic lawmakers argued Perkins supports effective vocational
programs in their states. The White House Office of Management and Budget
had said, "despite decades of significant federal spending, the
current [Perkins] program is not adequately preparing our students to
participate in today's competitive workforce."
The disagreement over NCLB's role in high schools goes deeper than which
pots of money are available to pay for it. That became clear at a House
Education and the Workforce Committee hearing May 17 that brought out
bipartisan support for the idea that much-needed reform of high school
curricula should be driven by states and local communities, not by expanding
Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) declared at the hearing, "the case for
change in America's high schools is well documented: The graduation
rate is too low, too many students are struggling learners, and much
of the curriculum needs to be revamped to better prepare our youth not
just to become employed, but also to be informed, compassionate, and
productive citizens." Vilsack lauded ventures such as Dual Credit
that enable students to earn college credits while still in high school.
However, Vilsack warned against "one-size-fits-all" solutions
and said, "just as each student has very individual gifts and needs,
each school and each district is unique in its strengths and challenges,
and must be allowed to develop its own plan for action, reform, and
Federal Expansion Deemed Unwise
While praising Bush for putting high school reform on the national agenda,
House Education Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-OH), who championed
NCLB in 2001, expressed serious doubts about the wisdom of expanding
its reach into high schools. Boehner said he always has believed the
federal government's role in education should be "limited"
but that NCLB "was necessary and justified because the federal
government was already spending billions of dollars a year on K-12 education
before NCLB was enacted, and the federal government wasn't demanding
results for children in return."
Boehner added that because he's a supporter of NCLB, "I have doubts
about the idea of expanding it at this time. I'm not sure we're ready
to require states to do more under No Child Left Behind at a time when
some are still seeking, unfortunately, to do less. I think we need to
take a look at what states and communities are already doing proactively
to transform high schools, and ask whether additional federal requirements
are even justified."
Students with Disabilities
Meanwhile, under Education Secretary Margaret Spellings' leadership,
the Bush administration is moving to shore up support for NCLB as it
currently operates, with a focus on required annual testing of the reading
and math skills of children in grades 3-8.
In an effort to provide more flexibility for states without compromising
the basic goals of NCLB, Spellings announced that states that failed
to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) solely because of the test
scores of students in the "disabilities" subgroup could adjust
their goals to use alternative assessments for those students, who constitute
about 2 percent of the total student population.
In a related move, Edward J. Kame'enui, an international authority on
learning problems and special education, was named commissioner of the
NationalCenter for Special Education Research, an entity created by
the 2004 congressional reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA).
Head Start Reauthorized
The House Education Committee ended a partisan impasse by approving
a bill to reauthorize Head Start, the preschool program originally begun
as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's anti-poverty crusade. The bill, sponsored
by Education Reform Subcommittee Chairman Mike Castle (R-DE), seeks
to beef up Head Start's academic components, as Bush had proposed.
California Rep. George Miller, the Education Committee's senior Democrat,
thanked Republicans for responding to Democrats' concerns by dropping
proposals to include Head Start in block grants to the states--a step
Miller said "would have ended Head Start as we know it." TOP OF PAGE
Blumenthal is right
to threaten lawsuit Connecticut Post Opinion, 6/27/05
It's become clear that state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal's was
serious last month when he threatened litigation over the federal government's
No Child Left Behind law.
Blumenthal has been in constant communication with the U.S. Department
of Education over the controversial law. Blumenthal was essentially
seeking for the government to bend the requirements for Connecticut's compliance with No Child Left Behind, taking issue
with the financial burden the law puts on the state.
The government's DOE has refused to budge, and Blumenthal is now looking
for other states to join him in a lawsuit against the federal government.
The attorney general has called the No Child Left Behind law "inflexible,"
"unyielding," a "slap in the face," and, because
the federal NCLB mandate is unfunded, illegal.
The Connecticut Post agrees with him. While the federal NCLB mandate
is a great concept no one can argue against strengthening the
quality of education in the nation's schools the fact is the
law is far too broad to be effective in many circumstances, including
Anyone with even an inkling of familiarity with local politics knows
that education is one of the major components of most local budgets.
For many communities Bridgeport included there is simply no financial wiggle
room. What NCLB asks for is to devote millions and millions of more
dollars to the state's education system mostly on mandates that
are completely superfluous.
One estimate pins the cost for Bridgeport to fund the NCLB mandate at $25 million more than it
has or will receive from the state or federal government. According
to studies, many other communities in Connecticut would have to pay between $3.8 million and $10.1 million through 2008.
And the state has less than three months until September rolls around
and NCLB regulations must be met.
And those regulations, while admirable, would do nothing to actually
improve a child's education in Connecticut. A major requirement of NCLB is that there be a yearly
test which a student is forced to take but Connecticut already
has a noted state testing policy, one of the finest in the nation. Simply
giving our school children more tests is not going to improve their
education. The NCLB law simply has little or no relevance to Connecticut.
And that's exactly why the federal government should give the state
some leniency in enforcing this economically bloated mandate. Blumenthal
has asked them repeatedly to provide funding for NCLB, and the federal
DOE hasn't budged. That makes NCLB an unfunded mandate, which violates
federal law. The state's attorney general is strongly encouraged to
go forward with his lawsuit until the government realizes its error.
TOP OF PAGE
But one year after the BrowardCountySchool District poured $6.6 million into laptops for students at four
schools, only one campus has shown overall improvement on the Florida
Comprehensive Assessment Test.
The mediocre results, combined with the high cost of the computers,
means other students around the county won't get their own laptops anytime
District Chief Information Officer Vijay Sonty said his office decided
to shelve a $275 million proposal to expand the project and give every
student a computer.
"It's expensive, and we haven't seen any demonstrable results on
the FCAT yet," Sonty said.
Instead, Sonty said his office will ask the School Board in July to
lease 40,000 computers at a cost of $68 million over the next four years.
The laptops will go to every school and replace older computers.
"They won't be taking them home," he said.
This year, the district let students borrow 5,800 Apple iBooks at Broward
Estates Elementary in Fort
Attucks Middle in Hollywood, Monarch High in Coconut Creek and Miramar High.
Of the four, only Broward Estates did better on Florida's A-Plus grading
system, jumping from a C to an A this year. Broward Estates students
posted bigger gains on the FCAT than the county average.
The other three remained C schools in 2005 and had mixed results on
the state test.
At Miramar, students were told to leave their computers on campus
a few months into the school year after dozens were broken and 11 more
were stolen. At year's end, its 10th-graders struggled. They failed
to gain as much as the county average on state math and reading scores.
Monarch 10th-graders trailed the county average in gains on the math
test, and Attucks seventh-graders trailed the county average in gains
on the reading test.
Jeanine Gendron, the district official handling the laptop program at
the four schools, expects it to continue this fall. Though the test
scores may not show it yet, she said students have benefited.
Laptops make interesting gadgets, she said, especially for students
who've never owned a computer. Adding them to the classroom instantly
gets kids more enthusiastic about their schoolwork. Attendance is up
at some schools, Gendron said, and teachers say they have fewer discipline
Broward Estates Principal Deedara Hicks credits the iBooks for getting
students excited about reading long passages and tackling big projects.
Kids enjoy clicking on hyperlinks and seeing where they go, she said.
"They can take ownership of their own learning," Hicks said.
But at Monarch High in Coconut Creek, parent and Student Advisory Committee
Chairwoman Linda Zara said she worried teachers were using the computers
to put their classes on autopilot.
"It was easier for lazy teachers to say `Go online and do this
research' during class," Zara said. "It lessened the teaching
Zara said parents also worried about being responsible for the $1,200
"If you lose it or it gets broken, then you're personally responsible
for it," Zara said.
The district offers a $75 insurance policy for the laptops, but Zara
said her son will likely use his own laptop next year. That way he'll
get to keep it during final exams in May. She said students had to give
up their computers a few weeks before the end of the school year.
Around the country, school districts have added laptops to the list
of required classroom supplies to help meet the federal No Child Left
Behind Act's goal to get students "technologically literate"
by the end of the eighth grade.
Maine had one of the most ambitious programs, giving every
seventh-grader a laptop in 2002.
Students in Maine don't take standardized tests each year, but schools
say they're making significant progress, said Tony Sprague, a Maine official who supervises the $37 million program.
"One math teacher said he taught his students using the same curriculum
and taught his class in the same way as the year before without laptops,"
Sprague said. "He gave them the same quiz in mid-October: The year
before, the average class score was a 74 [percent]. The next year, with
laptops, the average score was 92 [percent]."
Broward will take a closer look at how the laptops affect test scores
next year, when teachers and students are more comfortable with the
computers. If test scores are up and the technology gets less expensive,
Sonty said he'll once again look at making laptops available to every
"Maybe in two or three years, we'll be ready." TOP OF PAGE
up over years
Garner cafeteria manager voided hundreds of small breakfast and lunch
sales, a school probe finds
By T. KEUNG HUI, Staff Writer, Raleigh News & Observer, 6/29/05
Frances Crowder Parker was by all outward appearances a model WakeCounty school employee, with awards to her name.
But that illusion was shattered this month when the former GarnerHigh School cafeteria manager confessed that she had stolen $217,786
from the school system. Parker, who has been arrested on embezzling
charges, has agreed to repay the money.
A review of school district records shows how so much money was stolen
over 4 1/2 years without being detected.
"There were safeguards in place to keep track of financial dealings,"
said Don Haydon, Wake's associate superintendent for auxiliary services,
which oversees school cafeterias. "This individual was apparently
able to exploit places where there weren't adequate checks."
Parker, 36, of 399
in JohnstonCounty, apparently took small amounts of money out of cafeteria
funds on a daily basis from August 2000 to February 2005.
David Venable, Parker's attorney, declined to comment Tuesday. He previously
has said that Parker is cooperating with investigators.
The fraud may have included something as simple as pocketing money from
the vending machines, according to Garner Police Chief Thomas Moss.
Other elements of the embezzlement scheme were far more sophisticated.
Transaction lists show that Parker logged into the computerized cash
register system on a daily basis after breakfast and lunch were served.
It's not uncommon for cafeteria workers to void transactions if they
realize they've made a mistake taking a student's order. But records
show that Parker voided dozens of transactions at a time, some for as
little as 40 cents.
On Dec. 9, Parker apparently voided 118 transactions totaling $477.25.
Investigators think that once Parker voided a transaction, she then
pocketed the money from that transaction.
Records also show that Parker backdated a large number of cash payments.
While employees used to backdate a transaction or two to balance the
books, Parker did a dozen or more a day worth several hundred dollars.
Parker apparently backdated the money by as much as a year, which didn't
trigger any warning signs in the computer system.
"Anytime you have one person in charge of all the financial resources
and limited checks and balances, things like this can happen,"
Haydon said the school system has implemented several changes to limit
the possibility of such abuse again. Child nutrition staffers from the
central office now run daily reports on each cafeteria to monitor transactions.
School cafeteria workers are no longer allowed to backdate transactions.
Haydon said the child nutrition department also has reminded workers
that two people must count money. And, he said, new software will help
officials do a better job of keeping track of inventory.
The possibility of theft at Garner High wasn't on anyone's minds before
In fact, Parker was one of the nominees in March 2004 for the school
district's high school child nutrition manager of the year.
"This is certainly one of the most coveted awards and only the
best of the best are nominated," wrote Elaine Hunt, Wake's senior
director for child nutrition services at the time.
School officials said a recent fraud case involving school transportation
employees led the school district to hire additional internal auditors
and to conduct an audit of the child nutrition department in November
and December. That uncovered the problems at Garner High.
School officials say they confronted Parker on Feb. 28. She resigned
that day, and police were notified.
The financial picture at Garner High's cafeteria has improved significantly
since Parker's departure. At the time of Parker's departure, the cafeteria
was running at a loss of $7,241 for this fiscal year. Through April
30, the deficit had been reduced to $1,836.
For the previous three years, Garner High's cafeteria ran at an annual
deficit of between $12,000 and $20,000. School cafeterias are supposed
to be self-supporting. Haydon said Parker had explained away the deficits
on factors such as the school losing enrollment.
Garner High Principal Cathy Johnson said the case shouldn't tarnish
the school's image. Parker worked for the school district -- not the
high school -- so Johnson said she didn't have any authority over the
After 16 1/2 years with the school system, Parker was earning $24,911
a year. She has agreed to repay $220,001, which includes attorney fees.
School officials say they should be given credit for doing the detective
work to uncover the fraud and for getting Parker to agree to repay the
money. But questions linger about the case.
"It's certainly important they caught it," said Moss, the
Garner Police chief. "But because it went on for so long, my question
is why weren't there checks and balances?"
Haydon said it's easy in hindsight to say additional measures should
have been in place.
Parker faces between 44 months and 120 months in prison if convicted
of the felony embezzlement charge. Her next court date is July 7, but
Wake Assistant District Attorney Jeff Cruden said that will likely be
delayed because he'll ask the grand jury to indict her. TOP OF PAGE
students were failing their chemistry course when their teacher approached
them with an unexpected opportunity.
The teens could change their academic fate with one project and
it wouldn't be in the chemistry lab. For a little help in torching and
dumping her financially troublesome car, investigators said, the teacher
offered a tantalizing possibility passing grades.
Now, teacher and students are facing far more serious trouble than any
report card or grade book could offer.
Tramesha Lashon Fox, 32, of Kingwood, is charged with insurance fraud,
a first-degree felony, and arson, a second-degree felony, authorities
said. Officers were still searching for her Tuesday evening after obtaining
warrants for her arrest.
A listed phone number for Fox could not be found Tuesday.
The two students, Roger Luna, 18, of the 100 block of Coach Lamp, and
Darwin Arias, 17, of the 1100 block of Fallbrook, were also charged
with arson. Luna was arrested Tuesday night, and Arias was making arrangements
Fox, in an interview with HarrisCounty fire marshal's investigators last week, admitted to
conspiring with the two students to destroy her 2003 Chevrolet Malibu
so she could collect insurance proceeds. In exchange, she told investigators,
she gave the students passing grades.
Luna and Arias had been failing Fox's class up until their final exam,
but secured grades high enough to pass the semester, investigators said.
Arias was given a score of 90 on the final after "miserably"
failing the course the previous semester, and Luna was given an 80,
said senior fire investigator Dustin Deutsch of the Harris County Fire
officials said Tuesday they knew little about the case. Fox, who completed
her first year of teaching there, remains employed. School officials
have not yet reviewed the law enforcement report that led to the charges
Once the HarrisCounty fire marshal's report is in hand, "our folks will
then do a thorough investigation and then make a decision as far as
employment status," said Leticia Fehling, Aldine ISD spokeswoman.
Fox previously worked for the HoustonIndependentSchool
where she was a teacher at WelchMiddle School. Records show HISD originally hired her in August 2000.
Fox was at least three months behind on her car payments and facing
repossession when her vehicle was reported stolen on May 27, Deutsch
said. The car had been destroyed by fire when it was found 12 days later
in a wooded area near Arias' home.
Investigators say Fox had bought a new car, a 2005 Toyota Corolla, before
the older car was reported stolen and burned. She owed about $20,000
on the Chevrolet, Deutsch said.
Deutsch said the students thought Fox was joking when she first approached
them on campus in early May about the conspiracy. As she continued to
pursue them, they realized she was serious.
The alleged plan called for Fox to leave her car unlocked at Northline
Mall. On May 27, the last day of school, both students drove to the
mall and found Fox's car unsecured with the windows down and the keys
in the passenger compartment.
After the car was dumped in a wooded area in the 1300 block of Fallbrook,
it was doused with charcoal lighter fluid and burned. The vehicle was
vandalized and its steering column broken to make the car theft appear
genuine, Deutsch said. Fox reported the theft to police that same day.
The torched car wasn't found until June 8. Investigators then traced
the vehicle to Fox.
When officers first talked to Fox, she implicated other students in
the crime, indicating she must have been targeted in a revenge plot,
Deutsch said. Luna and Arias were not among those she named, he said.
After calling her in for questioning last week, Fox admitted to the
One of Fox's neighbors wasn't surprised to learn of the alleged arson
plot. Fox told neighbors that she was a teacher when she moved into
the neighborhood last summer in the 2100 block of North
Park at Kings Manor,
said Cinda Koh.
Neighbors were suspicious when Fox drove up with her new Toyota because she often complained about subsisting on a public
school teacher's meager salary, Koh said.
"She's always saying that she doesn't have any money and doesn't
know how she's going to pay her bills," Koh said. TOP OF PAGE
Texas House approves education bill
AUSTIN, Texas -- The Texas House has approved legislation that would
give teachers a raise, lower taxes and ensure the state's 4.3 million
students that school doors will be open for the new term.
The bill approved Tuesday is the first part of a package of school funding
legislation that brought lawmakers back to the Capitol this summer for
a special session, their fourth attempt in the past three years.
The measure next goes to the Senate for consideration.
"I'm going to vote for this bill because I don't want the perfect
to get in the way of the good," said Republican Rep. Dan Branch
of Dallas, before the 77-69 vote.
The quagmire has threatened school funding this year and been embarrassing
to Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who is seeking re-election to a second
full term in 2006. The governor has said he was prepared to keep lawmakers
in session all summer, if necessary.
The plan approved Tuesday would give teachers an average $1,500 pay
raise in lieu of a $1,000 health care stipend. The measure also prescribes
teacher incentive pay programs, including $100 million aimed at improving
student performance at at-risk campuses.
School property taxes, now capped at $1.50 per $100 of property value,
would be reduced to a maximum $1.20 in 2006 and $1.15 in 2007. Lawmakers
haven't yet decided how they'll pay for reduced property taxes.
In 1989, the Texas Supreme Court threw out the state's school funding
law after finding "glaring disparities" between rich and poor
school districts. Lawmakers later forced property-rich school districts
to share some wealth with poorer ones in what came to be called the
"Robin Hood" plan.
After a trial brought by 300 districts, both rich and poor, a judge
ruled last year the education funding system was unconstitutional, agreeing
with the districts that they didn't have enough money to provide an
adequate education. The state has appealed the ruling.
The latest measure, which gives districts a minimum of 3 percent more
money in 2006 than they would under current law, would not end the Robin
"Robin Hood is still going to be alive, he may not have all his
merry men, but he'll be alive," said Rep. Rene Oliveira, a Brownsville
Democrat who opposed the plan. TOP OF PAGE
CITY - The State Board of Education needed only a 12-minute
conference call Wednesday to effectively dissolve the 111-year-old WellstonSchool
The unprecedented action means that unless the school district wins
a last-minute legal battle today, Missouri will for the first time disband an elected local school
board. The state takeover is slated to take place at tonight.
The state school board voted unanimously by conference call to hand
control of the district to a three-member panel led by an assistant
state education commissioner.
The step is the most severe sanction ever against a Missouri school district. And as a flurry of court action Wednesday
proved, the move also places the state in uncharted legal territory.
Throughout the day Wednesday, Wellston district attorney Charles Ford
asked the Cole County Circuit Court to place a freeze on the state takeover.
That motion was denied in the morning, but a second judge said he would
hear arguments on the matter this morning.
Ford said the state has not given the district proper credit for improvements
in test scores and in lowering its dropout rate. Ford is seeking to
halt the takeover until the district has presented its case in court.
State officials, however, are moving ahead as if control will switch
The state board named former St. Louis Public Schools administrator
Charles Brown to serve as interim superintendent of the district. Brown
currently oversees the state's urban education programs. He will remain
a state employee while carrying out his new duties.
Joining Brown in the district's new leadership are Garry Beals and Cassandra
M. Hollins-Wallace. Both are residents of the school district. Beals
is director of alternative programs in the Ferguson-FlorissantSchool
Hollins-Wallace is a parent educator for the RitenourSchool
and the wife of a current Wellston board member.
"We want to do whatever it takes to help our children get the best
education possible," Beals said.
The three-member panel replaces the seven-member elected board in day-to-day
oversight, though the state retains ultimate control of the district.
Brown said his first action would be communicating with the district's
staff, whose employment is in limbo amid the takeover. Brown said he
hopes to inform all teachers within 10 days of their status. But Education
Commissioner Kent King said he does not expect high turnover in teaching
State officials can't yet say whether parents will continue to be able
to transfer their children from Wellston to other public school districts.
Dozens of parents were allowed to do that once the district lost academic
King said he would allow children who have previously transferred to
continue attending other schools. But it's unclear from a legal standpoint
whether parents have the right to seek transfers in the future.
Wellston Superintendent Ronald Stodghill traveled to Jefferson City to watch as the state board essentially fired him. Moments
later he offered only a few words.
"I just hope the best thing happens for the young people of our
district," he said.
State officials say there's no way of predicting how long the Wellston
district will remain under state control. When asked to offer a guess,
King instead borrowed a phase he's heard used in conjunction with troops
pulling out of Iraq.
sell education for profit
Private companies make millions running charters
By Jennifer Mrozowski, Cincinnati Enquirer staff writer, 6/30/05 Ohio's public charter schools are increasingly being run
by private companies paid hundreds of millions of dollars to educate
kids in non-traditional ways.
Unlike traditional public schools that make no profits, "education
management firms" are a growing, for-profit industry. They'll receive
more than $200 million in state and local funds to operate at least
55 schools with nearly 30,000 students this year. That's about half
of the $428 million for charters overall.
Soon, the companies may control more schools.
Gov. Bob Taft is expected to sign a state budget today authorizing 60
new charters. Education companies, which already run about one-fifth
of Ohio's 249 charter schools, are expected to apply for more.
Locally, seven of 30 charters are managed by for-profit companies with
another, QueenCityAcademy in Roselawn, set to open in the fall.
The remaining are operated by former public school teachers and principals,
business owners or non-profit organizations.
"Our focus is on educating students and developing a fiscally responsible
school organization so we don't need to do what many traditional public
schools do, which is constantly go back to the taxpayers in their communities
and demand more money," says Mark Thimmig, CEO of White Hat Management,
the largest for-profit education company in Ohio.
As the number of privately managed schools multiplies, so do the critics.
They say the firms reap profits by skimping on operating costs, charging
excessive fees and hiring inexperienced teachers. Local school districts
say they suffer, too, when students leave their districts for charters,
taking with them at least $5,169 in state and local funding for each
Academically, charters average some of the lowest test scores in Ohio. More than half receiving state ratings for student
achievement ranked at the lowest levels.
"Students are being lured to these schools based on slick advertising
and big promises, but they are, in fact, losing their only real opportunity
to get a good education," says Tom Mooney, president of the Ohio
Federation of Teachers union.
One company, 13,000 students
David Brennan, an Akron lawyer who made part of his fortune running steel mills,
owns White Hat Management. The company operates 34 Ohio charter schools that enroll more than 13,000 students
- enough to make up the 11th largest school system in the state. The
state will pay his company more than $109 million this year.
Half of Brennan's schools that received academic ratings in the 2003-04
school year were labeled in "academic emergency" or "academic
watch" - the state's worst categories for student performance.
Brennan wouldn't comment for this story. But White Hat's Web site said
he grew passionate about improving education after finding that his
manufacturing employees were functionally illiterate despite attending
public schools. He decided to create his own company to offer better
alternatives in K-12 education.
Charters - tuition-free, privately run public schools - provided an
option. The schools are guided by a contract that describes their goals.
They often have more freedom to experiment with curriculum because they
aren't controlled by a district.
Management companies increasingly operate charters, with some providing
lessons, hiring teachers, crafting the budget and buying buildings and
Some companies solicit volunteers to serve on a school board, which
then hires the company. Or charter founders, some with little expertise
operating a school seek out the companies to run the schools.
Most of Brennan's schools are Life Skills Centers, which are geared
toward dropouts. Students do most of their schoolwork at computer terminals
that line the blue-gray walls of the facilities. They work at their
own pace in the schools, often in former office space in strip malls.
His schools, which receive state funding based on student enrollment,
send most of their revenue to White Hat Management, according to a routine
Such corporate control of America's public schools has tripled in the past five years,
and most of the increase has been in charters. For-profit companies
operate 10 percent of charters, according to the Education Commission
of the States, a non-partisan public policy institute based in Denver. That number is expected to rise.
'Drive for excellence'
National Heritage Academies, another large education company, operates
51 schools nationally, including two in Cincinnati. In 2003, the Grand Rapids, Mich., private company was named one of the fastest-growing
in the nation by Inc. magazine.
J.C. Huizenga, a printing plate magnate, founded National Heritage Academies
in 1995. Huizenga's schools offer a "back-to-basics" curriculum
that emphasizes virtues, morals and patriotism - traits Huizenga says
he believes are lacking in traditional public schools.
One of his Cincinnati schools, AllianceAcademy, is rated in academic emergency. The other has not yet
Huizenga says it may take years for new charter schools show significant
improvement, in part, because many of the students come from low-performing
"Once you've gone through nine years, you've had the opportunity
to influence your classes from kindergarten right on through every grade,"
he says. "At that time, you've got a more normalized school, and
it shouldn't take you long to pass the line of excellence."
Huizenga says he's proud to be a for-profit company, which can help
to improve quality and cut costs.
"Without competition, there is no drive for excellence," he
Exactly how much money education companies make is unknown because they
don't have to disclose their profits.
Some experts say millions of taxpayer dollars go straight to the for-profit
companies, and they question how much is spent on providing quality
"In large part, a lot of money is siphoned off for management fees.
It doesn't get to instruction," says Gary Miron, chief of staff
at the EvaluationCenter at WesternMichiganUniversity, which has studied charters and management companies.
State statistics offer some insight into the firms' operations. The
average teacher in White Hat schools earned $29,000 and had 2.2 years'
experience in 2003-04. That compares to an average teacher salary of
$46,700 and 14 years' experience in the state's public schools.
Inexperienced teachers can be a factor in low student achievement, says
Martin Carnoy, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute,
a non-partisan think tank in Washington, D.C. Carnoy is co-author of "The Charter School Dust-Up,"
a recent book that examined enrollment and achievement nationally.
Anger ends in court
The business practices of some firms also have become public through
In 2002, the board of one Cincinnati
charter school grew so angry at its management company's alleged profit-making
that it sued to close its own school.
The board of the former Sabis International School of Cincinnati said
the firm, Minnesota-based Sabis Educational Systems Inc., charged the
school excessive rent - $1 million annually - to lease a building the
After the lawsuits, the school closed. A school run by the same management
company since has opened under a different name in the same MountAuburn building.
"We did not charge in excess of what was a fair and contractually-agreed-to
rate," says Jose Afonso, the firm's director of governmental affairs.
"Children's education never once was adversely affected."
The new school is rated in academic emergency, but Afonso says it's
too soon to judge it.
"If you want quick results and a quick turnaround, that's not going
to happen," he says. "We're oftentimes getting the families
who are dissatisfied with their children's learning in the local school.
That's a fact. We're getting kids who were performing below grade level.
That's a fact. We're getting kids who are predominantly low-income.
...We're not promising a quick fix. We're in it for the long haul."
Despite the criticism from some corners, for-profit companies say parents
and students care more about the quality of the program than who manages
MountHealthy resident Corey Woolfolk, 22, who graduated this month
from the LifeSkillsCenter on Reading Road, says he went to the school after being kicked out of
"I don't know what I would've done otherwise," he says. "It
saved me from the streets, basically." TOP OF PAGE
City teachers being
State school board approves restructuring plans intended to improve
lowest-performing schools; Drastic staffing measures being taken at
By Sara Neufeld, Baltimore Sun Staff, 6/30/05
Moving to turn around some of Baltimore's worst-performing schools, the state school board approved
a plan yesterday to replace teachers and other staff at three schools
with persistently low test scores.
In a related action, city school officials said they are planning to
replace part of the staff at several other schools.
At Cherry Hill Elementary/Middle School, everyone from the principal
down to the secretaries was required this spring to reapply for their
jobs, said city schools Chief Academic Officer Linda Chinnia. Chinnia
said much of the staff at Northeast and West
Baltimore middle schools also had to reapply, but she could not
provide specifics - except to say that West Baltimore will get a new principal and Northeast will not.
The three schools are among 24 in the state - 22 of them in Baltimore
and two in Prince George's County - that have repeatedly failed to make
adequate progress on the annual standardized tests mandated by the federal
No Child Left Behind Act and are required by the state to restructure
for the coming school year.
Mayor Martin O'Malley, who three weeks ago called the Baltimore school system "one of the biggest turnaround stories
of any urban school system in the United States of America," issued a statement yesterday that said: "Some
of our schools are making progress faster than others. We are glad the
state accepted the city's plan for restructuring these schools, and
we hope this will move these schools in the right direction."
The state approved restructuring plans for all 24 schools, despite concerns
of Baltimore City Council President Sheila Dixon and others that parents
were not involved in the implementation of the city's plans, as required
by law, and that similar plans at other failing schools have been ineffective.
"I think it's a good point of beginning," state Superintendent
Nancy S. Grasmick said. "Time will tell if it's sufficient."
In most cases, the restructuring plans involve appointing an administrator
to work with the principal and staff on reform. Dixon and Barbara R. Davidson, president of StandardsWork,
a Washington education nonprofit, sent a letter to Grasmick expressing
"our grave concern about the quality of those plans and the extent
to which they represent any real chance for turning the schools around."
Requiring a school's staff to reapply is one of the most drastic reforms
available to school districts. It was a tactic used in 2001 by former
city schools chief Carmen V. Russo in 10 low-performing schools that
she said she hoped to turn into an "educational paradise."
One of the 10 was West Baltimore Middle, now undergoing the process
Around the country, the practice has taken on different names - "keystoning"
in Philadelphia, "reconstitution" in California and, now in Baltimore, "zero-basing." Whatever the title, state
officials said, it is reserved for dire situations:
Northeast Middle, which underwent an overhaul in 1998, has had four
principals in five years, according to its restructuring plan. More
than a third of teachers are conditionally certified. This spring, more
than four in five seventh-graders failed the state math test.
At West Baltimore Middle, where a seventh-grader was stabbed last year,
nearly half of teachers have conditional or provisional certification,
the restructuring plan says. More than 80 percent of seventh- and eighth-graders
failed their math tests this spring.
At Cherry Hill Elementary/Middle, 84 percent of teachers do not meet
the definition of "highly qualified" as required under No
Child Left Behind. Eighty-nine percent of eighth-graders failed their
math test this year; 100 percent failed last year. More than 90 percent
of seventh-graders failed in math.
Still, Cherry Hill Principal Sharlette Jones-Carnegie said her school
was making progress.
"I'm just baffled by the decision," said Jones-Carnegie, who
has led the school for four years. "I had a vision and the vision
was to help Cherry Hill be a school any parent would be proud for their child to attend. Because
of this decision, I haven't been able to fulfill that vision."
Baltimore City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. said making staffers
at troubled schools reapply for their jobs might be unpopular, but it
"Efforts like this are just what the doctor ordered to help cure
the deficiencies in our ability to properly educate our children,"
said Harris, who chairs the City Council education committee. "Everyone
has to be held accountable, from the principal to the janitor. The welfare
of our children is at stake."
Though schools were not required to implement their restructuring plans
unless they failed to make "adequate yearly progress" on the
round of standardized tests given this spring, city school officials
began planning for the overhauls at West
and Cherry Hill this winter, Chinnia said. Staff was notified in April because the district
could not wait any later to make staffing decisions for next school
"We weren't going to wait until June when the AYP data came out,"
Chinnia said. "We were certain that, no matter what, that was the
best option, for these schools to restructure."
Chinnia said the school system is doing partial staff replacement and
appointing new principals at "several" schools independent
from the state-approved plans, but she did not know how many.
Teachers union president Marietta English said the union has been involved
in interviewing teachers reapplying for their jobs and ensuring that
those who are not hired back at their old schools or who wish to change
schools are transferred to schools of their choice.
Teachers "in good standing" are guaranteed a job somewhere,
Chinnia said: "We're not firing people."
At yesterday's state school board meeting, the controversy was not over
whether zero-basing is needed, but whether the reforms planned for the
other failing schools are enough.
The state board's vice president, Dunbar Brooks, voted against the restructuring
plans for the city schools because they haven't proved to be effective.
Most of the schools will hire administrators, or "turnaround specialists,"
to help raise test scores, as did 27 city schools last school year.
Brooks said those 27 schools have shown "absolutely no evidence
"In some schools ... instead of going up, they went down,"
Chinnia said the turnaround specialists have been in schools for as
little as six months, too short a period to judge their effectiveness.
And she said some of the schools did post impressive gains.
Chief Executive Officer Bonnie S. Copeland said her staff has given
"blood, sweat and tears ... to put together the right intervention."
Grasmick challenged the district's efforts to engage parents in developing
the reform plans, saying Dixon and Davidson - who were hosts of a forum
this month to explain restructuring - were "able to capture the
attention of parents in a way that many of the schools in the system
have not been able to do."
She quoted Dixon and Davidson's letter, which read in part: "In
one school alone we talked to over 150 parents and not a single one,
including the head of the PTA, knew anything about school restructuring."
Copeland and Chinnia vigorously defended their efforts to reach out
"The thing that is not in our control is the desire, the motivation
of the parents to get involved," Copeland said.
But at least one step mentioned by city officials - involvement of the
Baltimore Council of PTAs - was disputed.
"There very well could have been some parents involved," said
Michael Hamilton, president of the council. "As a body, we were
not involved. ... You would think that we would be aware to help prepare
our students for these dramatic changes." TOP OF PAGE
Senate Republicans are considering changes to the D.C. school voucher
program that could include increasing the $7,500 annual limit on the
scholarships and allowing students to use them at private schools outside
the city, according to District, congressional and program officials.
Two key Democratic senators said they would oppose such measures, arguing
that Congress should wait until the five-year pilot program has run
its course before considering changes.
In an interview, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) also expressed concern
about any alterations, but his spokesman later said that Williams has
not ruled out such options.
The voucher legislation passed by Congress last year provides low-income
D.C. children with federal grants of up to $7,500 to cover tuition and
other expenses at private schools in the city. Nearly 1,000 students
and 53 schools participated last year, and those figures are expected
to climb to 1,600 students and at least 67 schools this fall.
Those who support raising the voucher amount and allowing private schools
outside the District to participate cite a shortage of high school slots
in the program.
According to the Washington Scholarship Fund, the nonprofit group that
administers the vouchers, 40 to 80 students who have been offered the
scholarships for this fall may not be able to use them because of the
lack of openings in the upper grades.
Sally Sachar, president and chief executive of the fund, said high school
tuition is generally much more than $7,500, and a higher voucher limit
could help students who cannot find a high school in the District to
Sachar said the proposal would not increase the $12.1 million annual
federal appropriation for the vouchers because the scholarship fund
would use $5 million left over from the first year of the program.
"What we want to avoid is having families wanting to use a scholarship
and not having a program to choose," Sachar said. "We've been
exploring with the mayor and people on the Hill what options might be
available to solve this problem."
Aides to Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations
subcommittee on the District, are reviewing possible changes in the
program that would be added to the $9 billion D.C. budget bill once
Congress returns from its Independence Day recess next week.
Staff members in Brownback's office said yesterday that it was premature
to comment on what changes are being considered. But Sachar said the
ideas include increasing the voucher limit and expanding the program
to schools in Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland.
U.S. Education Department spokeswoman Susan Aspey said senators have
"talked to us about some ideas to address capacity issues in the
A Senate battle over vouchers could put an obstacle in the unusually
clear road the D.C. budget bill has had this year. Last night, the House
neared final passage of the District's 2006 budget, a spending plan
that includes $8.3 billion in local funds and $560.3 million in federal
aid, which is part of a larger $60 billion spending bill funding the
transportation, treasury and housing agencies, among others.
In 2003, approval of the D.C. budget was held up for months while the
White House, a Republican Congress and Williams pushed through passage
of the voucher program by a one-vote margin in the House.
On Tuesday, the mayor said he had strong reservations about possible
Senate changes to the program.
"Why don't we leave well enough alone?" Williams said. "We
talked about testing this out over a period of three [more] years. I
mean, Jesus, Lord -- that's my initial reaction."
Yesterday, however, spokesman Vince Morris called to say that Williams
"doesn't like it, but he's not yet opposed to it. . . . He's looking
at all options that will ensure that kids who want to pursue their education
have the opportunity and are not frozen out."
Other Democrats were less supportive of changes in the program.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), the ranking Democrat on the D.C. subcommittee,
said the proposals "raise important questions. . . . However, we
are only in the second year of a five-year demonstration period, and
changing the parameters of an experiment in midcourse could potentially
invalidate our findings."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a key supporter of the voucher legislation
that received final congressional passage last year, said: "I am
opposed to any expansion of this program. It is a one-time, five-year
pilot project, and the results should be duly considered prior to any
request for expansion."
Sachar said the scholarship fund is deferring to elected leaders to
decide the best way "to ensure that the program works from the
perspective of schools and families." But, she added, "there
may be a mismatch in supply and demand between students looking for
spaces and the spaces available. . . .. We may not have enough capacity
in the District." TOP OF PAGE
U.S. invades kids' privacy
Opinion by Sandra Lowe, mother of four and a school board trustee in
CA, USA Today, 6/29/05
The Defense Department has crossed the privacy line. At your local high
school, buried under emergency cards and red tape, is a little-known
requirement. Under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, unless school
districts want to lose much-needed federal funds, they must release
student data to military recruiters.
They must also allow parents to opt out. Many parents don't know they
can ask to get their children off recruiters' lists. That's an issue,
but recent Pentagon revelations expose a more disturbing problem.
The opt-out clause was meant to give parents a choice that preserves
family privacy. But they didn't tell us, opt out or not, the Defense
Department is tracking your kid and my kid with a separate, privately
purchased database, and we have no choice. Even if we opt our children
out through our local school district, all their information remains
on the Department of Defense's mega-database without our consent.
The sanctity of our families is now secondary to the marketing of our
If we're in a Do Not Call Registry, it won't matter. We can opt out
on the NCLB form, and it won't matter. We can send our children to private
or public school, they can be 18 or 16, girls or boys, and it won't
matter. According to the Defense Department, they need to do this and,
yes, they forgot to tell us that they've been doing it since 2002.
There's no excuse for violating the privacy of children. There's no
governmental purpose to collecting their grades, much less their races.
There's no legitimate reason to ignore the rights of parents to restrict
strangers from contacting their children. There's no way to justify
a wholesale database of likely targets from a pool of minors.
Our military can and must fulfill recruitment needs while preserving
our family privacy. It is not an either-or proposition. Concerned parents
can go to the Web site www.leavemychildalone.org to learn how to opt
their children out of the Pentagon's databank. We can contact our lawmakers
and urge them stop this dangerous violation of our privacy rights. We
must change this policy, or No Child Left Behind will really mean, "Hey
kid, we got your number."