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Articles from September, 2004

Former Congressman runs for Hawai’i school board

This year’s elections for the Hawai’i Board of Education have at least one new high-profile feature. Former five-term congressman and broadcast executive Cec Heftel has come out of retirement to launch a bid for a seat on the board, which governs Hawai’i’s statewide school district, a state agency that functions as both LEA and SEA. Heftel’s campaign has introduced television advertising into a race in which the candidates typically struggle to connect with voters more focused on all of the other national, state, and county elections. At least until this month’s primary, the Heftel factor hadn’t raised the profile of the board elections as much as some had hoped, in part owing to an injury that sidelined him for a while. But that may happen yet.

Republican Gov. Linda Lingle has been pushing hard to introduce local school boards to the islands and is backing a slate of candidates who share her views. The state legislature instead passed its own school reform law, which provides a new weighted student funding formula, pushes more decision-making authority down to the school level, and requires the board to hold even more meetings on the road and on islands other than O’ahu.

Erin Walsh|September 30th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Boston’s school committee gets it right

NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) today announced that Boston Public Schools has been selected as the winner for its first annual award for Urban School Board Excellence.

The Urban School Board Excellence Award is presented to the school district that best demonstrates excellence in four core areas: board governance, closing the achievement gap, academic achievement, and community engagement.

The CUBE award highlights the strong correlation between urban student achievement and successful board governance. The Boston School Committee and superintendent Thomas Payzant have relied heavily on community input in developing the district’s strategic plan, called Focus on Children. The plan provides clear direction regarding district goals, enhancing the superintendent’s effectiveness in designing and executing new, data driven approaches to teaching and learning. As part of the plan, the district has focused on strengthening literacy and math while increasing academic standards and expectations for all students. Boston has established citywide learning standards in English, math, science, and social studies.

The school committee has moved aggressively to improve academic achievement by investing more than $15 million to reduce class size, approving a new student promotion policy, and developing a new accountability system to measure school and student progress. In addition, Boston is reorganizing all of its secondary schools into smaller learning communities.

The frenzy of activity is paying off. Five years ago, the majority of 10th graders failed to meet state standards. Last fall, more than 64 percent of students passed the math exam and 70 percent passed the English test.

“We believe that the Boston School Committee will be an inspiration for all of our school boards, those in cities, in the suburbs and in rural areas,” says Anne L. Bryant, NSBA’s executive director. “The Boston leadership team—the school committee and superintendent Payzant—has set district priorities and worked carefully to engage the community to help improve academic achievement for all students.”

“The Boston School Committee leadership has been critical to raising student achievement, narrowing the achievement gap and bringing the community together in support of Boston’s public schools,” CUBE director Katrina Kelley says. “The Boston School Committee is an excellent example of the best in urban public school governance.”

Boston Public Schools, as the winning district, will receive a $5,000 contribution to its student scholarship fund. Chula Vista Elementary School District in California and Norfolk Public Schools in Virginia have been awarded honorable mentions. The award is sponsored by McGraw-Hill Education and will be presented today at the CUBE Annual Conference in San Antonio, TX.

Erin Walsh|September 30th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Just for fun: The hand-writing is on the wall

Great story from NPR on teaching kids hand-writing in a keyboard age. An added imperative: the new essay part on the SAT. A very smart, computer literate kid still needs to be able to compose and write with pencil and paper. Some interesting history about how we started teaching young kids first to write in block letters in the 1920s, since that would be more like what they’d see in print. Some kids now are back to learning to write in cursive at an earlier age.

Erin Walsh|September 29th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Media actually get something right

In Pensacola, they are calling it the Ivan Institute of Learning, after the hurricane, and a local newspaper is a big part of it. The project involves a local newspaper working with schools in need. Check it out.

Erin Walsh|September 29th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|


As schools continue to face budget shortfalls, the E-Rate program is funding technology to help schools improve student achievement. NSBA continues to ensure that school boards and educators are aware of the program changes and oversight issues.

Despite attempts to ensure that E-Rate is fairly administered and not misused, stories of abuse continue to surface as Congressional hearings, several investigations, and regulatory proceedings are underway. One constant theme emerging from a series of hearings conducted by the House Energy and Commerce Committee is that competitive procurement processes school districts use for contracts with service providers must comply with E-Rate program rules. Otherwise, under a recent order from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), school districts now will have to return E-Rate funds.

The rules call for the FCC to recover funds from a district if the district fails to comply with competitive bidding procedures; lacks the necessary resources to pay for the local share of the cost for E-Rate-supported services; makes a substitution in the services approved; fails to pay its non-discounted share for telecommunications services; fails to calculate its discount rate accurately; or fail to complete the services planned for Internet connections within the funding year.

At a recent congressional hearing there was some discussion of whether E-Rate funding should be shut down until the program gets an overhaul. This would have been a disaster, causing a major disruption for schools and libraries. Luckily, there is a consensus that the program should continue while additional checks and balances are implemented, including more audits and 1,000 additional site visits conducted by the FCC and Universal Service Administrative Company, which administers the program. Bottom line: As BoardBuzz has said before, school boards and school districts need to pay close attention to the business arrangements vendors may propose; but overall E-Rate is a stunning success for America’s schoolchildren.

To highlight the importance of the E-Rate program to schools and libraries, the FCC is planning to hold a symposium Oct. 6 (available online) showcasing ways in which broadband deployment can facilitate learning. The event will provide an opportunity for school leaders to explore how to maximize the benefits of E-Rate funding by combining it with technology funding from other sources. NSBA plans to participate. How about you?

Erin Walsh|September 29th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Hurricanes continue to be big challenges for schools

Schools throughout Southern Virginia are closed today, as what was Hurricane Jeanne rumbles through. Half Florida’s K-12 schools are still closed, reports the Florida Department of Education. On Florida’s east coast, half of St. Lucie County schools are unusable (because of damage from both Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne), and all of that district’s schools will not re-open until next week at the earliest, while Martin County schools are closed “indefinitely,” reports the Sun-Sentinel.

Northwest Florida and the Pensacola area continue to assess and recover from their hit from Hurricane Ivan. Escambia County schools were badly damaged, and just announced they will re-open no later than Oct. 11.

Alabama Association of School Boards’ executive director Sandra Sims-deGraffenried gave this update to BoardBuzz on how that state is coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan:

“Power outages meant refrigerated foods were discarded by the tons. Then cafeterias had to be sanitized and the local health departments had to approve them to reopen. While most of our schools have been able to open, we still have many that are closed. Even for those schools which have begun to open, we find many of our schoolchildren coming back have not had a hot meal since Ivan hit Alabama and some don’t even have homes to go back to. It’s going to be a struggle for children to do homework and projects and all the things that go along with school when they are suddenly homeless. It’s hard to imagine the wrath of such a storm and the havoc it wreaks unless you see it firsthand. The responses to our disaster have been phenomenal, and our empathy and compassion go out to those other states who also have felt the aftermath of hurricanes during this season.”

On Monday, students in hard-hit Mobile returned to school for the first time in two weeks. The Mobile Register describes some of the challenges facing the school board, staff, and students. Among other issues, the states schools will have to devise a way to make up the lost school days that state Superintendent of Education Joe Morton has announced are required in order for districts to receive state funding. Morton is allowing districts to postpone the administration of their Alabama High School Graduation Exam, scheduled for this week. Students must pass the exam in order to graduate.

And let’s hear it for all the public schools that served as shelters and food distribution centers during natural disasters, and the recent hurricanes are no exception. One high school is even serving as a FEMA headquarters in Baldwin, Ala.

Erin Walsh|September 28th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

T+L2 looks ahead to 2005

Now 18 years old, T+L2 has served as a catalyst to move districts from writing technology plans, acquiring hardware, and securing connectivity to addressing the broader challenges of increasing student achievement and ensuring equity and access for all students. To find out more, check out the press release here about the conference’s plans for 2005. The 2004 version gets started Oct. 27 in Denver.

Erin Walsh|September 28th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

UPDATE: School funding lawsuits

We have two updates in our ongoing coverage of legal efforts to improve state school funding systems. As we’ve indicated before, this can be challenging, because so much is happening around the country.

First stop: Georgia
The peach state looks to be the next setting for a legal challenge, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A group of rural school districts plans to challenge the inadequacies of the property tax system for districts with weak tax bases.

Some of the urban districts express misgivings and strong suspicions that the rural districts are shirking their responsibility to pony up enough of their own local revenues. Rural districts contend that even raising their local rates wouldn’t meet the need. In fact, Joe Martin, a former school board president of one of the urban districts, Atlanta’s, helped the rural districts in developing their suit. Bottom line, says Martin: Even if it were true that a local board needs to do more, the constitutional funding obligation remains on the state.

The Georgia School Boards Association’s legislative positions on state and local school funding point to part of the problem here: The state constitution precludes local boards from receiving revenues from sources other than the property tax; the constitution prevents boards in booming areas from levying and collecting development impact fees; and the state tax base is continually being eroded by annual passage of exemptions from various state taxes. Meanwhile, the state’s “Quality Basic Education” funding formula focuses on average real estate property values, rather than considering average per capita income, local poverty rates, and the percentage of student on free or reduced lunch.

Second stop: Texas
A state district court judge ruled on Sept. 15 that the state’s funding scheme violates the state constitution’s requirement of an “adequate and suitable” education. Here’s a summary of a Houston Chronicle account. Ed Week also has a good article on the decision here. A broad coalition of wealthy and poor school districts brought the suit, noting the state has let its support for schools erode to an all-time low while property tax rates are capped.

Part of the court’s focus: the achievement gap. The judge spelled out the serious cost implications to Texas if it fails to invest adequately in education now: declining average state income, higher taxes for prisons and the needy, etc. “The solution seems obvious,” Judge John Dietz said. “Texas needs to close the achievement gap. But the rub is that it costs money to close the educational achievement gap.” David Hinojosa of the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund said Judge Dietz appeared to be swayed by evidence that the state’s early interventions are effective in closing the achievement gap among third graders.

The court gave the state legislature a year to fix the problem; otherwise, the court will stop school spending until lawmakers face up to it. David Thompson of Bracewell & Patterson, a member of NSBA’s Council of School Attorneys, former director of governmental relations for the Texas Association of School Boards, and attorney for one group of the plaintiff districts, told the Chronicle that he hopes the state supreme court will resolve this case in a timely manner, unlike the past cases that led up to this decision. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said the state will expedite its appeal directly to the state supreme court, arguing that the weaknesses of the funding system don’t make it unconstitutional.

Next stop: Maryland
Stay tuned for an update from Baltimore.

Erin Walsh|September 27th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

’tis the award season

At T+L2, a special Trailblazer Award will be given to Community Consolidated District #15 of Palatine, Ill., a long-time member of NSBA’s Technology Leadership Network. Recognized as a Salute District in 1998, the district is a deserving candidate for this year’s Trailblazer Award. Trailblazers are districts committed to charting new pathways to success and sharing their lessons so others may learn from their experience. As a 2003 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award winner, the district’s leadership team assessed its stakeholder needs and desires, set measurable objectives, implemented data-driven decision-making, and aligned performance goals across the organization, setting the pace for improved student learning and stronger organizational performance. The Trailblazer Award recognizes the tremendous dedication, vision, and leadership exemplified by the district’s efforts to reach such a milestone.

Erin Walsh|September 24th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Autism becoming major cost for schools

One side of the special education issue that is often overlooked is that schools are seeing so many more students diagnosed with what used to be uncommon conditions. And that means more challenges for schools. Good piece here on soaring costs of educating children with autism. “It’s not easy to treat, No. 1, and it’s not cheap to get those kids a good education,” Tim Allwein of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association told The Intelligencer newspaper. “In many districts, this (autistic support) will overtake special education budgets.” One example: In 1999, Pennsylvania’s Upper Moreland School District had five students with autism disorders. By last year, there were 19, costing the school district $693,000. Now this is just a BoardBuzz hypothetical, but assuming all these costs were IDEA eligible, the promised 40 percent federal contribution would be $227,200. But the actual 18 percent support level would be just $124,740. Difference to local taxpayers: $102,460.

Erin Walsh|September 24th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|
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