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2-21-13 Education Issues in the News
US News - Education considering district-by-district waivers

NJ Spotlight - Schools Development Authority Looking to ‘Do More With Less’ After Cutting Staff, Payroll Critics still point to just one project started in three years but agency cites 12 more in the pipeline

US News - Education considering district-by-district waivers<P>

NJ Spotlight - Schools Development Authority Looking to ‘Do More With Less’ After Cutting Staff, Payroll

Critics still point to just one project started in three years but agency cites 12 more in the pipeline

US News - Education considering district-by-district waivers

By PHILIP ELLIOTT Associated Press The Associated Press

Thursday, February 21, 2013 4:07 PM EST

WASHINGTON (AP) — Education Secretary Arne Duncan is talking with school districts about how to free them from unworkable parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law, signaling he is open to an approach he long tried to avoid.

The Education Department has given 34 states and the District of Columbia permission to ignore parts of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Law and eight others have waiver applications pending ahead of next week's application deadline. But that still leaves eight states — giants California and Texas among them — operating under the law and set to fall short of its requirements, such as all students being proficient in math and reading by 2014.

The next step could be allowing school districts themselves to petition for exemptions from national requirements that states are all but certain to fail to meet.

"I'm not saying we are going to go down that path," Duncan said Thursday before trailing off, "but if we go down that path ..."

It seems as though his department is already setting that in motion, however.

California, for instance, failed its first attempt at a waiver and remains a top worry for the Education Department officials.

District superintendents met with federal officials on Wednesday in Washington to talk through options and Duncan joined them for 30 minutes of face-to-face discussion.

"California could reapply. There's some innings to be played here," Duncan said, holding out hope just a day after he met with the California Office to Reform Education, or CORE.

That 10-district group includes Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento districts and represents 1.2 million of the state's 6 million students. It is not representing the statewide California Department of Education.

"My strong preference is to work with states," Duncan said. "We can manage a portfolio of 50 states. Managing a portfolio of 50,000 districts is lot more difficult."

But Duncan seems slowly to be softening his opposition to that localized approach to give schools greater control over how to close achievement gaps and lift low-performing schools.

"We've given states until the 28th (of February). That's another week to apply. We're still waiting to see what states come in," Duncan said. "Once we get past that deadline, if we've had certain places not apply and not show interest, then I think it is incumbent on our team to think through what we do to take that next step."

Duncan has repeatedly said that he doesn't want his department to get into district-by-district decisions. Such a shift to approving local projects would potentially add huge workloads to the department and perhaps consume thousands of hours of local districts' time to assemble the detailed alternatives to improve schools on their own terms.

But the window on that is closing.

The next largest state in student population, Texas, has not even applied for the waivers to No Child Left Behind.

Officials there instead were preparing a broader petition to be exempted from all Education Department mandates, which would include No Child Left Behind. Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Debbie Graves Ratcliffe said the state should have its petition finalized "within the next month or so" but wasn't pursuing the waivers within the Feb. 28 deadline.

Duncan acknowledges the problems in the No Child Left Behind requirements, first passed into law in 2001 with bipartisan support. In meetings with individual lawmakers and in testimony over the last few weeks, he urged Congress to take up the measure and make adjustments to expectations that no longer are realistic.

If Congress were to update No Child Left Behind, the states would shift to the new national standards — potentially a headache for states that already have set forth on their own individualized plans.

The law expired in 2007 and its requirements have not been updated.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican and former education secretary, said earlier this month that it was Congress' fault.

"The bottom line is that it expired in 2007 — except for a provision that says if Congress didn't act, it would continue," Alexander said during a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee where he is the top Republican.

"And Congress didn't act, so it's continuing," he added.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


NJ Spotlight - Schools Development Authority Looking to ‘Do More With Less’ After Cutting Staff, Payroll

Critics still point to just one project started in three years but agency cites 12 more in the pipeline


Bottom of Form

By John Mooney, February 21, 2013 in Education|1 Comment

Three years after all but halting its construction work, the Schools Development Authority is touting its leaner payroll and streamlined management structure as it finally moves forward with a dozen projects in the next year.

Related Links

Schools Development Authority Personnel Chart

Schools Development Authority Payroll

At the request of NJ Spotlight, the SDA this week released its latest payroll and organization chart for the agency’s 240 employees, down nearly 100 people from its peak right after Gov. Chris Christie took office.

The request was made after critics again raised questions about the authority’s administrative expenses as it has started just one construction project in the state’s neediest districts in the last three years.

The Education Law Center, the advocacy group leading the Abbott v. Burke school equity litigation that created the SDA, conducted an analysis of SDA spending since 2010. The ELC said this week that it found the agency has been spending exorbitantly on administration and overhead costs, while failing to complete its work as ordered by the state Supreme Court.

The ELC’s study found $114 million had been spent on administration and other management expenses since 2010, amounting to nearly 20 percent of total spending.

The latest payroll connected some names and positions to those expenses, with salaries alone amounting to $17.8 million annually. The total budget last year was $151 million, the vast majority of it grants to districts not covered by the court ruling.

The salary total is $5 million less than in late 2010, which was when NJ Spotlight last requested the payroll information and amid the authority’s reduction of 100 jobs through attrition and layoffs.

About 15 percent of the staff, or 35 employees, make $100,000 or more and half earn above $75,000 – proportions largely unchanged since 2010. The average pay now is $74,500, also unchanged since 2010.

The 10 top-paid executives have barely changed as well, led by chief executive officer Marc Larkins at $195,000 and followed by three vice presidents at roughly $160,000. They are Jane Kelly (governance), Andrew Yosha (program operations), and Donald Guariello (finance). None have seen raises in the last three years, officials said.

“We really are doing more with less,” said Kristen MacLean, the SDA’s communications director. “We have restructured the authority to be more effective, and most employees are in fact taking on additional responsibilities.”

MacLean said criticism of the authority’s spending was unfair. While few projects have broken ground as yet, she said 12 projects are slated to be under way this year, each requiring architectural and other work.

“They are not capturing what we do,” she said of the criticism. “By the end of the year, we will have 12 projects (under construction), and you don’t get there by doing nothing.”

Nevertheless, the ELC’s director said the payroll figures only strengthened his claims that the SDA is a wayward bureaucracy that has failed to fulfill its charge of building needed schools.

"The large staff, many paid well over $100,000, is completely out of whack with how little work the SDA has actually done,” said David Sciarra, executive director of the ELC.

“This is an out-of-control agency, with no accountability to the taxpayers and, more importantly, to the children forced to attend school in unsafe and deplorable buildings everyday."

NJSpotlight (http://s.tt/1A2yk)


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