School takeover plan gets House OK
Arizona Republic
March 13, 2008


Proposal affects Roosevelt and other troubled districts

Matthew Benson

The state could assume control of the Roosevelt school district in south Phoenix and a handful of other troubled districts under a takeover plan approved by House lawmakers Wednesday.

The measure, House Bill 2711, would allow the Arizona Department of Education to take control of districts in which at least half the schools are underperforming or failing, according to their scores on a state report card.

Along with Roosevelt, other districts that would qualify for immediate state intervention include Indian Oasis-Baboquivari Unified in Sells, Miami Unified, San Carlos Unified and Union Elementary in Tolleson.

But it's the struggling Roosevelt school district that motivated bill sponsor Rep. Cloves Campbell Jr. The Phoenix Democrat noted that half of the district's 21 schools are failing or underperforming, the worst record in the state. Turnover of school-board members hasn't rectified the problem, Cloves said, nor has a parade of seven superintendents over the past 17 years.

"This is a last-ditch effort," Campbell said of the bill.

Growing up, he attended schools in the area - one of which is named for his father, Cloves Campbell. Now, the district numbers nearly 12,500 students. An additional 2,000 choose to attend neighboring districts or charter schools instead, costing Roosevelt more than $12 million in state funding.

Roosevelt Superintendent Mark Dowling could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but has previously voiced objections to notions of a state takeover. Norma Munoz, president of the Roosevelt governing board, has noted that the bill would make new district leadership unaccountable to residents, unlike a traditional, voter-approved school board.

Under HB 2711, given final House approval by a 52-7 vote, the state Board of Education would be empowered to install a superintendent at districts such as Roosevelt. The superintendent would serve three years and report to the state board. The superintendent also would have authority over district hiring and firing and be charged with drawing up an improvement plan for academic achievement.

State schools chief Tom Horne backs Campbell's bill, saying "the Number 1 moral issue in education today is that we've got to turn around these failing school districts."

He noted the state's success in recent years in working with individual schools. Under existing guidelines, the state may take control of any school that ranks underperforming for three straight years.

But, occasionally, Horne said, school problems are systemic and can be traced to district mismanagement. It's for those instances that Campbell's measure would come in handy.

The bill next heads to the Senate for consideration.