Eureka City Schools takes divergent paths on proposed lease-leaseback projects
THADEUS GREENSON, North Coast Journal
November 26, 2015
-- Eureka City Schools is backing away from at least one of its controversial no-bid construction contracts.
Back in September, the district decided to forgo the no-bid construction contract it had promised DCI Builders to renovate the Alice Birney Elementary School site, opting to put the process out to bid instead. But less than a month later, the district opted to stay the course at Lincoln Elementary School, keeping Dinsmore Construction under a no-bid contract to complete the third phase of the modernization and renovation project.
District officials were unavailable to explain the decisions before the Journal's deadline. Superintendent Fred Van Vleck asked the Journal to submit questions via email last week, then responded to say he was out of town and wouldn't be able to answer the questions until after the district's Thanksgiving break.
No-bid school construction projects in Eureka and throughout the state were thrust into the spotlight in June, when an appellate court found reason to believe the Fresno Unified School District may have violated state law in a $36.7 million project to build a new middle school. Specifically, the court found that Fresno Unified may have illegally skirted the competitive bid process by abusing a decades-old law that aimed to make it easier for cash-strapped school districts to build new facilities.
In 1957, the California Legislature recognized that school districts had few funding options at their disposal. State law prohibited them — in addition to counties and cities — from carrying any debt that exceeded the amount of a single year's revenue, meaning districts couldn't get private loans to build new facilities, unless they first got the approval of 66 percent of district voters. Looking to help districts in areas where voters weren't keen on passing bonds or allowing them to carry large debts, the Legislature came up with what's now known as the lease-leaseback arrangement.
How Washington created some of the worst schools in America
MAGGIE SEVERNS, Politico
November 25, 2015
-- t took 50 years for the federal government to admit officially that the education it had promised to provide Indian children was so bad it qualified as abuse. “Grossly inadequate,” wrote the authors of a scathing 1928 report. Forty years later, the feds were taking themselves to task again, in a report by Sen. Edward Kennedy that called the state of Indian education a “national tragedy.”
Flash forward 46 more years. The network of schools for Native American children run by an obscure agency of the Interior Department remains arguably the worst school system in the United States, a disgrace the government has known about for eight decades and never successfully reformed. Earlier this fall, POLITICO asked President Barack Obama’s secretary of education, Arne Duncan, about what is perhaps the federal government’s longest-running problem: “It's just the epitome of broken,” he said. “Just utterly bankrupt.”
The epitome of broken looks like Crystal Boarding School.
Tucked into the desert hills on a Navajo reservation 150 miles east of the Grand Canyon, Crystal has cracks running several feet down the walls, leaky pipes in the floors and asbestos in the basement. Students come from extremely troubled backgrounds, but there is no full-time counselor. Last year, a new reading coach took one look at the rundown cinder block housing and left the next day. Science and social studies have been cut to put more attention on the abysmal reading and math scores, but even so, in 2013 only 5 percent of students were considered to have grade-level math skills.
“I don't even know what to say,” said Duncan. “It's just not right.”
Sunset Park Parents Frustrated by Overcrowding Are Invited to Join the Search for School Sites
Beth Fertig, WNYC 93.9
November 25, 2015
-- Parents hoping the city would provide them with answers to Sunset Park's overcrowding problems were disappointed after Tuesday night's forum with Chancellor Carmen Farińa and other Department of Education officials.
More than 200 people attended the meeting of Community Education Council 15, which includes a big chunk of Sunset Park. Henry Carrier, the council's co-vice president, disputed the long-standing claim that the city has had trouble finding affordable sites for new schools.
"I think the people here are reasonable, we understand you can't to this overnight, but this has been years now," he said, referring to the Department of Education's capital plan. It includes five schools for the district, two of which are supposed to be in Sunset Park.
Carrier gave a PowerPoint presentation showing new housing developments and hotels throughout the neighborhood, and asked why those can go up but not schools. "I gotta tell you, the community is starting to say, 'Are we really being told the truth here?'"
Many parents and community leaders want the city to convert a hotel on 39th Street into a school, now that it's been closed over allegations of prostitution and human trafficking. They claim other hotels have also been bad neighbors. One activist held a large sign that said "Schools, not brothels." Others held signs in Chinese and Spanish calling for solutions to overcrowding.
Chancellor Carmen Farińa said the city would look into the 39th Street hotel. She also said she would encourage apartment building developers to set aside space for unzoned pre-k and kindergarten classes, which would help the local schools.
Crumbling Schools Add Health Problems to Classroom Stress
Joseph Williams, takepart
November 24, 2015
-- Among teachers, it’s known as the 2:30 headache, describing the pain that sets in after hours of breathing polluted air in an old school building or a temporary classroom. For Rachel Gutter—and educators and schoolchildren nationwide—it isn’t theoretical.
“My mom suffered permanent respiratory damage by working in a sick school,” says Gutter, the U.S. Green Building Council’s vice president for knowledge. A school administrator in metropolitan Washington, D.C., her mother had asthma and mold allergies, which were constantly irritated by the bad air. Gutter says one visit to a portable classroom triggered a particularly severe attack.
According to the survey, eight out of 10 respondents support “green” schools—construction and renovation concepts that create airy, spacious, sunshine-filled environments—which enhance learning while saving energy and protecting the planet.
“Where our children learn matters,” says Gutter, who unveiled the findings at a green-building conference in Washington late last week. Education-conscious parents, she said, “will talk to you about the who and the what—the teachers and the curriculum—but they won’t talk to you about the where,” which can be just as critical.
“I’ve been in schools that feel like jails,” with high security, poor ventilation, and little natural light, Gutter explains. “I come from three generations of educators. I believe every child is entitled to a healthy, safe place to go to school.”
Harford officials begin to discuss the unthinkable -- school closings
David Anderson, Baltimore Sun
November 24, 2015
-- As public school enrollment slips, and the local economy continues to sputter, Harford County government and school officials are beginning to discuss the unthinkable: closing underutilized school buildings.
One of the wealthiest counties in the state and the nation, Harford has the financial wherewithal to maintain its existing slate of 54 schools, despite the declining enrollment in recent years.
If the housing market continues to lag, or the economy takes another dive, however, key local decision-makers could be forced to consider closing some schools and merging student populations, according to members of the county's Adequate Public Facilities Advisory Board.
"We can manage some of the financial obligations responsible for keeping a school [open], because of the social, politically correct considerations that we need to think about," the board's chairman, County Council President Richard Slutzky, said during the board's semi-annual meeting in Bel Air Thursday evening.
The APF advisory board, composed of representatives of the Harford County Council, the school system and the school board, plus the county planning and treasury departments, meets twice a year to review school capacity figures, enrollment projections and the rate of home building.
5 Ways School Segregation Can Be Tackled by New York City
Amy Zimmer, DNAinfo
November 23, 2015
-- MANHATTAN — The Department of Education recently made an important first step in fostering diversity in the city’s school system after more than a year of lobbying by principals and parents.
The DOE approved admissions procedures that give priority to low-income students, English Language Learners or those in the child welfare system at seven Manhattan and Brooklyn elementary schools where principals requested the changes in 2014.
Officials at the schools, including Crown Heights’ Brooklyn Arts and Science Elementary School, said making changes was critical because their incoming kindergarten classes were becoming less diverse racially and socioeconomically.
“This goes beyond just an awareness of others’ differences but moves to foster a more open-minded world view,” Principal Sandra Soto said.
Pasco parents express worry over school boundary changes
GEOFF FOX, The Tampa Tribune
November 22, 2015
-- WESLEY CHAPEL — A half-hour into a meeting to discuss proposed school boundary changes, Pasco County school officials began fielding pointed questions and critical comments from parents.
Many of the parents were worried about traffic, overcrowding and the possibility of their children getting moved to a school with a less impressive reputation.
The boundary changes were proposed as Elementary School “W,” meant to reduce overcrowding at Seven Oaks Elementary and Double Branch Elementary schools, and to accommodate growth along the State Road 56 corridor, is under construction near John Long Middle School. The new school is scheduled to open next year.
Denham Oaks Elementary and Sand Pine Elementary also will be affected by new boundaries.
The proposed boundaries were established by a committee made up of district personnel and at least one parent from each affected school. School district planning director Chris Williams led the meeting, held Thursday evening in the cafeteria at Denham Oaks Elementary School.
“We live in Wesley Chapel. We worship and shop here, take kids to functions here,” said Vince Iglio, who lives in the Arbor Woods community off State Road 56. “We come off the highway to pick up children at 5 o’clock, not the time you sent a car around to look at traffic. Why can’t we go down the road to Sand Pine? Why put us through all that traffic?”
Iglio also referred to the proposed boundaries as arbitrary, a comment met by a round of applause. Students in Arbor Woods now attend Seven Oaks.
Decisions on changed boundaries are based on a number of factors, including school capacities, projected growth patterns, socioeconomic considerations, transportation and school feeder patterns, among other things, Williams said.
More than a dozen Northwood subdivision residents stood in solidarity. Rather than moving affected students from Seven Oaks Elementary to Denham Oaks, which is rated lower and serves more free-and-reduced lunches than Seven Oaks, they urged officials instead to move them to Sand Pine.
Wyoming schools get in line for funding
Heather Richards, Billings Gazette
November 22, 2015
-- CASPER, Wyo. — The number of elementary students in Gillette is growing, and Campbell County School District No. 1 is trying to accommodate an increasing number of kids in a limited amount of space.
It's not the only district facing such a dilemma. Laramie County School District No. 1, the largest district in the state, has an increase of 100 to 200 elementary-aged kids every year, said superintendent John Lyttle.
“We’ve got 38 classes that are (in) modular (buildings),” Lyttle said. “That’s the size of a school, a school and a half.”
But Wyoming is experiencing a downturn in oil and gas revenue that has legislators suggesting tighter budgets. Money for building and maintaining schools, funded for years through coal lease income, is disappearing.
The Wyoming School Facilities Department is responsible for organizing and prioritizing school facility projects across the state.
The Select Committee for School Facilities is funding only the department's highest priorities. The committee has drafted a bill for school funding that sets aside about $200 million from 2015 to 2018 to pay for a variety of projects, from new construction to security cameras. Some of that was appropriated in the last budget session.
But the amount spent on schools in the next four years will likely be half of what was spent in the four previous years, said Rep. Ken Esquibel, D-Cheyenne, a member of the Facilities Committee.
School districts requested more than $360 million for the 2017-18 biennium alone.
Glenbard Dist. 87, West Aurora could save on big building projects
Susan Sarkauskas, Daily Herald
November 21, 2015
-- Taxpayers in West Aurora District 129 and Glenbard High School District 87 might end up paying less for money borrowed for school construction as a result of a state board of education decision Friday.
The Illinois State Board of Education got back authority to allocate $495 million in low- to no-interest bonding authority to local school districts.
"We are really excited about it," said Chris McLain, Glenbard's assistant superintendent for finance and operations.
Should West Aurora's application be approved, Superintendent Jeff Craig told the board, the district could save as much as $37.5 million in interest costs.
The Qualified School Construction Bond program is part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009. The federal government will cover most, if not all, of the interest costs on money borrowed by issuing federal tax credit general obligation bonds.
In 2009 and 2010, the federal government allocated $495 million of such bonding for the state, excluding Chicago. The Chicago Public School system received a separate $511.4 million allocation.
But in 2012, the state school board gave its allocation authority to the governor's office, with the idea that perhaps the state could borrow money on behalf of local districts.
Oakland’s facilities chief oversees work by his own company
Jill Tucker, San Francisco Chronicle
November 21, 2015
-- When Oakland school officials hired an interim director of their facilities department early this year — at $30,000 a month — they said it was temporary.
Eight months later, Lance Jackson’s services still cost Oakland Unified about $1,300 a day, nearly 30 percent more than the district superintendent’s pay.
Despite his job title, Jackson isn’t a district employee. He’s the chief operating officer at SGI Construction Management, the company hired to manage the district’s bond program, a three-year contract worth up to $11 million.
He is both a district administrator and a contract worker, overseeing services performed by his own company, through which the $30,000 monthly fee is paid. The arrangement has raised conflict-of-interest questions in an Oakland district with a history of financial mismanagement, including a $100 million state bailout in 2003.
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