Illinois Public Media News
(With additional reporting from Brandon Smith of Indiana Public Broadcasting and Michael Puente of Illinois Public Radio)
The Indiana State Board of Education has unanimously approved a plan to takeover five poor-performing public schools that are in their sixth year of academic probation.
The board endorsed the Indiana Department of Education's recommendations that New York-based Edison Learning Inc. take over Roosevelt Career and Technical Academy in Gary and that Indianapolis-based charter school operator EdPower take over Arlington High School. It also approved Florida-based Charter Schools USA as the "turnaround school operator'' of three other Indianapolis schools, Howe and Manual high schools and Donnan Middle School.
The management companies will spend this current school year assessing and evaluating the schools, and then develop a plan of action before taking full control during the next school year.
In additional to school management, many teachers could be replaced by the state beginning next year. Teachers union contracts would be nullified as well.
Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Eugene White, who attended Monday's meeting in Indianapolis, said some of the information about IPS that the board discussed is blatantly untrue.
"I really resent the fact that people can sit there and pretend that we've done nothing to make an effort," White said. "We've made tremendous efforts and respectively, I want those particular efforts recognized."
State superintendent Tony Bennett said the time for such complaints has long been over.
"Well, very bluntly, Dr. White's had two years to talk about fair shakes and share transparent information," Bennett said. "So to come to the board today and say, 'I'm not getting a fair shake,' is disingenuous."
For the last couple of years, the Indiana State Department of Education has looked at taking over roughly two dozen poor-performing schools. Such action is allowed under a state law passed in 1999.
Indianapolis Public Schools officials have threatened to sue the state over what they consider unfair evaluations of Arlington and Howe high schools.
Eight members of the Sept. 11 commission will take part in an Indiana University program on the 2001 terrorist attack just days after its 10th anniversary next month.
University officials say those expected to take part in the program on Sept. 15 include commission chairman and former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean and its vice chairman, former Indiana congressman Lee Hamilton. The school says the members will be together for the first time since the commission's report was released in 2004.
Hamilton says the commission's report shaped the country's response to the attacks in many ways and that the gathering in Bloomington will allow commission members to assess efforts to make the country more secure.
All but two members of the commission are expected to attend the two-hour public discussion.
Approval of the first state takeover of troubled public schools in Indiana is set for a vote by the State Board of Education.
The board is scheduled to vote Monday on a proposal by the state schools chief that the state assume control of four troubled high schools and a middle school that have seen years of low test scores.
State school superintendent Tony Bennett announced last week that would recommend state takeover of Arlington, Howe and Manual high schools and a middle school in Indianapolis and Roosevelt High School in Gary. School management companies would evaluate the schools for a year and run them starting with the 2012-13 academic year.
Indianapolis Public Schools officials have threatened to sue to stop the takeovers of Arlington and Howe high schools.
Gov. Pat Quinn has signed legislation that allows the state more time to respond to Freedom of Information Act from so-called "recurrent requesters."
Quinn's office says the Illinois governor signed the measure into law Friday and it takes effect immediately. The law also allows government entities to charge for the actual costs of retrieving information.
The move brought criticism from some civic groups, who say the new law discourages open government and is anti-democratic.
The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform says the new law will be "a disincentive to local governments to make information available online, without charging citizens.''
The Citizen Advocacy Center says the legislation decreases government accountability, transparency and accountability.
Both groups say the new law erodes steps Quinn took toward open information in 2009.
The University of Illinois' College of Engineering expects to break ground late this fall on a building that's been in the works for about 40 years.
The 230,000 square foot, four-story building will combine much of the research now spread between different facilities at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Nearly $50 million in state capital funds and $35 million in private donations are already committed to a project that Professor Phil Krein said was next in line to the Lincoln Hall renovations in terms of priority. It will be located just south of the Beckman Institute.
He said 2,000 students at ECE, the largest department on the Urbana campus, now split up their work in six different buildings. Krein said this will effectively house the department in one area. ECE is often mentioned on par with the same department at schools like MIT and UC Berkeley. Krein said this new building can put the U of I's department on top.
"With special emphasis these days on the electric power grid and some other basic infrastructure things, air traffic control, and so forth, the building actually can become kind of a living laboratory for power grid advances in the future as well as communications infrastructure and many other related things," he said.
Department head Andreas Cangellaris credits U of I President Hogan and Governor Pat Quinn for freeing up the capital funds for it. He said this building will allow many of the school's 2,000 students to study various innovations in the same space instead of all the buildings currently used.
"We have students who learn from things having to do with electronics and integrated circuits all the way to alternative energy, cyberphysical systems, and bio-related education that requires very special laboratories," Cangellaris said.
The U of I expects to seek out bids for construction by mid-October, with groundbreaking in November. Construction is expected to take about two and a-half years.
Health Alliance Agrees on Contract Extension
Health Alliance has approved nine-month contract extensions for state workers and employees.
The director of the Illinois Department of Corrections disputes charges from two state senators that many state prisons fall short of proper staffing levels.
State Senators Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) and John Jones (R-Mount Vernon) say that numbers obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show that the ratio of inmates to security staff is reaching dangerous levels at some prisons. But state Corrections Director Tony Godinez said the numbers lack the context of the different conditions at each facility --- based on security level, building design, inmate population and the quality of training given the security staff.
"We will have enough staff, no matter what, because we have established what our minimal staffing patterns should be. We will not go below that," Godinez said. "In addition to that, my comfort level is more so with the fact that our staff is the best and they're the best trained."
Senators Cultra and Jones had also expressed concerns about whether enough new guards were being trained to replace those who would soon be eligible for retirement.
According to the Illinois Department of Corrections, roughly 800 recently trained guards have been hired in the past year, and new cadet training sessions will be scheduled later in fiscal year 2012.
A long overdue new plane from Chicago-based Boeing is one step closer to taking flight. The airplane maker got word Friday from the Federal Aviation Administration that the new Dreamliner 787 is safe and in compliance with federal regulations.
Joe Schwieterman is a professor of transportation at DePaul University.
He said the Dreamliner is the most notable new plane to come out in decades.
"This is a real milestone for Boeing," Schwieterman said. "It had lots of delays, but this shows the project has reached where it needs to go and they've got a lot of airplanes on order. I think we'll see a bit of a surge in order activity now that it's truly airworthy."
Boeing's new 787 has been delayed for a variety of reasons for the past three years. The company has more than 800 orders for the light-weight, fuel efficient airplane. A Japanese airline says it wants to start regular service with the plane on Nov.1.
A circuit judge has upheld Gov. Pat Quinn's authority to eliminate salaries for regional school superintendents across Illinois.
Sangamon County Judge John Schmidt says the governor has "broad power'' to control state spending. He ruled Friday that it would be wrong to thrust the court into the appropriations process. Quinn vetoed about $10 million in salaries for 44 superintendents and about 40 assistants.
"This is a very important issue," Quinn said after the ruling. "It's about $10 or $11 million that we want to use in the classroom, and I think that's more important to put the education money of Illinois to teach students in the classroom than to have bureaucracy."
The superintendents have been working without pay since July 1. They perform a list of duties -- many required by the state --including certifying teachers, doing background checks and running truancy programs. He said if local officials want to keep them those employees on the payroll, then they should come up with local money to pay them.
The president of the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents, Bob Daiber, said he is disappointed by the ruling. He said three superintendents have stepped down since the salary dispute began and more could make that choice.
"I think this is a ridiculous expectation," Daiber said. "There is no one that is expected in America to work without compensation. I think that the Governor has acted poorly on this issue."
Gov. Quinn said he expects superintendents can continue working without pay for another two months.
"It'll be resolved when the General Assembly comes back into session in late October," Quinn said. "This is just a very important issue, it's about (money) we wanted to use in the classroom."
Daiber said superintendents are asking legislators to return to Springfield early for a vote to restore the funding, but he said he predicts that's unlikely.
"Clearly, we must focus now on encouraging legislators to again stand with us and provide relief for this incredibly difficult situation as soon as possible," Daiber said.
Indiana's top education official proposed Thursday that the state assume control of four troubled high schools and a middle school in what would be the state's first takeover of underperforming public schools under a 1999 law.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett said he had mixed emotions in asking the State Board of Education to approve the takeover of a Gary high school and three Indianapolis high schools and a middle school. But he said the step is necessary for the students' sake. The schools have been on academic probation for five years due to poor test scores.
The State Board of Education is scheduled to vote Monday on Bennett's proposals.
Bennett's first stop was in Gary, Indiana, to announce a proposed takeover of Roosevelt Career and Technical Academy, a high school with about 1,600 students.
"It's a difficult decision. But I can be very sad and forlorn; you can be very sad and forlorn or we can look at this as how I can begin the conversation," Bennett said. "My interest is a new beginning for this school."
Bennett said he just wants to make the schools better. Closing them, as the law allows, isn't something he wanted to do.
"This is not about blame, this is about the future," Bennett said. "Our intent is to use everything we have in this state to restore these schools to what they should be for the students in these communities."
Bennett said he's proposing Roosevelt be operated by a private firm from New York City called Edison Learning. The company operates schools on the East Coast and in Chicago.
Gary schools superintendent Myrtle Campbell expressed shock and sadness over the takeover, especially in light of ongoing changes at Roosevelt. At a special meeting of the Gary School Board on Thursday evening, Campbell wondered if Edison Learning can do a better job with Roosevelt than the district.
"We are doing our research to see where they are located. We know of some places, Chicago, and we know they have not always been successful," Campbell said. "So, there has to be some guarantee from that company that they can actually bring about the change that we would like to see in the district."
Dr. Eugene G. White, superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools, has threatened to sue the state if it moves to take over schools in his district. He urged the corporation's commissioners in an email Wednesday to begin legal action against the Department of Education.
"It is truly time to stand up for our children," White said in the email. The commissioners are scheduled to meet Friday night.
Under Bennett's proposal, the four Indianapolis schools and the Gary school would be run by school management firms that will evaluate each school's performance for the remainder of the current academic year. Starting in the 2012-2013 academic year, those companies would take over full operation of each school and receive the state's per-pupil aid for each school. Bennett said that if the Board of Education agrees, the companies would receive a one-year "transitional" contract followed by a four-year operations contract to run each school, with benchmarks to chart school improvement still to be determined.
Charter Schools USA and EdPower are the two school-management companies Bennett wants to run the four Indianapolis schools. He recommended that school management company Edison Learning operate the Gary school.
Indiana's schools are placed on probation based on the percentage of students who pass statewide tests. A 1999 law allows the state to intervene if a school has not improved its test scores after five years on probation. Bennett said Thursday he considers that five-year time frame too long and that lawmakers need to put more pressure on underperforming schools to improve.
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard said he supports Bennett's recommendations for the six IPS schools, calling them a "bold step."
"These schools have been failing for many years," Ballard said in a statement.
Jim Larson, the Department of Education's director of school turnaround and improvement, said the five schools that would be taken over by the state would undergo a careful year-long review by their chosen operators.
"This is much more than just 'Go in there collect some data, write a report, tell us what you're going to do better,'" Larson said. "All these schools are at different places.
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