Bill may put state in charge of failing school districts
Arizona Republic
Feb. 20, 2008


(Phoenix, AZ) - February 20, 2008
Author: Betty Reid
Tensions are mounting in the troubled Roosevelt Elementary School District with exasperated politicians and the state superintendent of schools calling for changes in leadership. And it's not just talk.

A bill going through the Arizona Legislature this week makes the 12,467-pupil Roosevelt school district closer to being taken over by the state.

House Bill 2711, to be heard today by the House Education Committee, would allow the state to take over districts that chronically fail to perform on Arizona Learns, the state's report card. It targets districts that receive below-average or failing labels on half or more of its schools.

The bill would give the State Board of Education the power to hire a superintendent at districts such as Roosevelt. Not only is the Roosevelt district the impetus of the bill, but it is also a prime candidate for receivership because half of its 21 schools are failing or underperforming on the state's report card, the worst in the state.

The law would also give the state board the power to hire a superintendent for three years. During that time, the new superintendent would be in charge of hiring and firing and answering to the state board instead of the governing school boards.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne supports the bill and at a Roosevelt town hall meeting last week said Roosevelt Superintendent Mark Dowling needs to be replaced. Though Horne recommended Dowling for the job in 2005, he believes Dowling failed to stand up to the board on key hires.

Dowling points to small improvements in standardized test scores and believes he needs more time to make progress. Though he is eligible for retirement, he worries bringing in a new superintendent now would throw the district off its upward course.

The town hall was also attended by politicians whose offices have been flooded with parents in the district who complain the district has fallen into financial and academic disarray.

Phoenix City Councilmen Michael Johnson and Michael Nowakowski facilitated the gathering that was also attended by architects of the school takeover bill: Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor, D-Phoenix, Rep. Cloves C. Campbell Jr., D-Phoenix, and Rep. Ben R. Miranda, D-Phoenix.

Johnson said he met and spoke with Dowling last summer and brought in parent complaints. He felt they were ignored. "When parents are complaining that a teacher is speaking broken English and how can a kid learn when he can't understand the teacher, how can I ignore it?" he said.

After seven Roosevelt schools dropped below average and four received failing labels on Arizona Learns in 2007, Johnson said it was time for him call for help from the state lawmakers.

Norma Munoz, president of the Roosevelt governing board, said she is disappointed in the three lawmakers who crafted the bill. The bill strips voters of a voice because it usurps the votes of their representatives on the governing board, Munoz said.

"If the state comes and takes over our school district, who are they accountable to?" Munoz asked. "There's already a bill that gives him ( Horne ) the authority to take over failing schools, but he wants to take over the entire district. If the failing schools continue to fail under the state, who would they answer to?"

Reyna Polanco is the lone Roosevelt governing board member who is pleased with the receivership bill.

Roosevelt education is broken, said Polanco, who joined the board in 2005 with plans to influence children's education.

"It's impossible to work on that board," Polanco said. "It's a lot of nepotism. There's always fighting among board members."

Munoz shot back and said Polanco missed key governing board meetings in 2008. Her priorities are elsewhere, Munoz said.

Polanco is upset that about 2,000 district students choose to attend Kyrene or Alhambra districts and charter schools instead of Roosevelt, causing the district to lose more than $12 million in state funding.

Johnetta Dorsey, 51, whose grandchildren attend Bernard Black School, is considering moving them to a charter school. She doesn't know the ranking of her grandchildren's school, but she isn't happy with their daily reports from school. One grandson says his teacher's accent is too difficult to understand and when he asks for clarification, he is reprimanded, she says.


Tom Horne on Roosevelt

In a report to citizens of the Roosevelt School District, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne lists reasons why the state should take over school leadership:

* Roosevelt spends $8,000 in federal and state funds per student instead of an average $6,000 at other schools. Yet, the district has seven underperforming and four failing schools on Arizona Learns.

* The district lacks leadership at the top. Many Roosevelt administrative employees are inexperienced and have minimal depth of knowledge or ability to describe the purpose of an instructional strategy, resource or assessment, and how they will ultimately affect student achievement.

* Instruction fails to improve at Roosevelt although it receives more technical help and support from Arizona Department of Education than any other district.

* Reading First grants were terminated at eight of nine Roosevelt schools, a loss of $1 million in help over two years.

* Roosevelt has failed to comply with the auditor general's request to gain better tracking of its cash flow especially sales of its student lunches.
Edition: Final Chaser
Section: VALLEY & State
Page: B1
Dateline: AZ
Record Number: pho95898887