Original URL: http://www.azstarnet.com/star/sat/21026federalfailingschool.html

Kids at 25 schools can transfer to better ones

By Jennifer Sterba and Sarah Garrecht Gassen
ARIZONA DAILY STAR, October 26, 2002

Students at 25 local schools identified as needing improvement will be able to transfer to better schools, beginning next month, under federal guidelines.

The federal list applies only to schools that receive federal Title I money, which is allocated according to the number of students on free and reduced-cost lunch programs in poor areas. The list uses guidelines established under the Clinton
administration in 2000.

Under the federal rules, children at the 25 schools in three districts will be able to move to another school this year, or receive extra services, such as tutoring, at district expense - one year ahead of a state accountability program that applies to all schools.

Arizona already allows open enrollment, with families providing transportation to another school. But the federal guidelines now require the districts - and ultimately taxpayers - to foot the bill for students to leave schools not meeting government standards.

Schools on the federal list have until Nov. 15 to notify parents that they may move their children to a better-performing school. Principals and district officials are now composing letters that spell out the different labels, accountability programs and options.

"It's a lot to digest, and the issue is, do you have faith and trust in your neighborhood school or not," said Bob Wortman, director of Title I programs and school improvement for the Tucson Unified School District.

Local officials predict that Tucson will follow national trends and parents will opt not to transfer their children. But districts must now set aside 5 percent of their Title I monies for transportation and another 5 percent to pay for extra services, such as tutoring.

"We hope parents would want to stay and help the school become better," Wortman said.

Some parents at Cavett Elementary School in TUSD are struggling with that choice.

Arci Diaz has two sons in Cavett, which she attended years ago, and is active in the parent-teacher organization and site council. She sees the school faltering and wants to help, but is unsure what's best for her children.

"I'm just a walking question mark," Diaz said. She and her husband, Anthony, frequently debate whether to move their sons to another school.

"We're doing everything we can for our kids," she said. "But we're not getting a good education for our kids."

Liza Montijo said working with her son at home on reading and homework can't make up for not learning in class.

"We're not seeing our kids succeed, and it's scary because I want my son to graduate high school," Montijo said. "I don't want him to get to junior high and not want to go to school anymore."

Districts must pay for transportation and extra academic services by diverting money from their existing Title I budgets or by cutting into personnel or program expenses.

"It's a plus that the kids will get extra help - I wouldn't even consider moving him," said Jeannie Acuna, who has a 10-year-old son at Ochoa Elementary School in TUSD, which is on the federal
list.

Parent Monica Figueroa agrees. "I wouldn't move my boys. They're happy here." Districts are now figuring out which schools can take in additional students and how to get them to the new schools.

Sunnyside has three elementary schools and one middle school where parents may choose to transfer their children: Ocotillo, Elvira and Gallego elementary schools and Challenger Middle School.

"We don't know yet as to who's going to request supplemental services or transfers," said Armeda Hernandez, director of Sunnyside's No Child Left Behind department, which includes Title I programs. "We're hoping that people are committed to helping their school improve."

TUSD is in an unusual circumstance because enrollments at some of its schools are dictated by a court order to desegregate the district. Attorneys are now figuring out how to comply with the federal desegregation court order and the federal accountability program that allows students to change schools.

TUSD has set aside about $800,000 from its Title I money to pay for transportation and another $700,000 for extra student services, Wortman said.

Districts may spend up to 20 percent of their Title I budgets on transporting students to better schools or offering extra services.

For the Sunnyside and Tucson unified school districts, that comes to a total of roughly $797,000 and $3.12 million, respectively. The spending cap comes to about $802,000 for Flowing Wells Unified School District.

* Contact reporter Sarah Garrecht Gassen at 573-4117 or at sgassen@azstarnet.com.
* Contact reporter Jennifer Sterba at  573-4191 or at sterba@azstarnet.com.


Go to StarNet's education site to see how the Tucson schools on the Federal list fared in Arizona's ratings.

To learn about the new education law signed by President Bush on Jan. 8, 2002, go to the No Child Left Behind Web site.

For general information, visit these Web sites: Tucson Unified School District, Arizona Department of Education and U.S. Department of Education.

 

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