Sunday, May 16, 1999

Cuts and reforms: 'This is an issue of survival'




BY DANA DiFILIPPO
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        “Unprecedented” is the buzzword in conversations about what's going on these days in Cincinnati Public Schools. Budget cuts totaling $20 million and a string of far-reaching reforms intended to boost sagging achievement have spawned unprecedented change in city schools this year, school principals and teachers say.

        Many say the changes make them feel like kindergartners in an advanced calculus class.

        “It's a great challenge,” said Helen Rindsberg, assistant principal at Taft High School in the West End. “It can be very exciting sometimes, but other times it can be discouraging. A lot of these reforms can be things that are good for us, but it's difficult to deal with at a time of budget cuts.”

        Superintendent Steven Adamowski stresses that the results will be worth the struggle.

        “We cannot continue on a business-as-usual course,” he said. “This is an issue of survival. You have to weigh the consequences of acting now against doing nothing, and the status quo will prove far more dangerous to our ultimate survival.”

        The widest reaching reforms include:

        • Student-based budgeting: Schools used to be funded based on staffing levels. This year, money will follow students, giving schools a market-based incentive to retain and attract pupils, officials say.

        The process also requires schools to set their own budgets, emphasizing the superintendent's aim to decentralize and turn the district into a system of schools rather than a school system.

        • School accountability plan: Schools that persistently fail face redesign; their staffs are replaced and a new academic program adopted. Two elementaries — Clifton and Parham — will be redesigned this year. Successful schools get more freedom and other rewards.

        • Charter school policy: Worried that state-approved charter schools would drain the district of dollars and students, officials agreed the district would approve its own charter schools and thereby retain control. Called community schools in Ohio, charter schools are free of many state and local mandates.

        • Facilities master plan: This blueprint for building improvements, released in September, calls for $697 million in school renovations or replacements in the next 15 years. Funding is uncertain.

        • Magnet and neighborhood equity: CPS officials last fall vowed to close a $30 million funding gap between the district's popular magnet programs and neighborhood schools.

        A desegregation lawsuit filed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People-Cincinnati branch in the 1970s spurred the district to create alternative schools to give parents more choices and achieve a better racial balance in all schools. But neighborhood schools receive far less funding and tend to draw more African-American and low-income students than magnet programs.

        • High school redesign: School board members admitted in September that neighborhood high schools are a failure. The district hopes to replace them as soon as 2000-01 with a system of specialized schools, such as a military academy or vocational school.

        • Financial relief: A new crusade to persuade state lawmakers to share more of public education's cost.

        CPS officials plan to pressure lawmakers to repeal House Bill 920, the 1973 “rollback law” that allows schools no inflationary increase as property valuation rises.

        They also hope legislators will loosen restrictions on borrowing money and lift a cap preventing districts from receiving more than 10 percent more in state money than the previous year, regardless of enrollment trends and state mandates.

        The state also should offer more building improvement money to urban districts; CPS now receives less than $8 million, the superintendent said.

Surgery on the schools
- Cuts and reforms: 'This is an issue of survival'
Bramble parents losing their contact point
Carthage children wil get less indivdual attention
Taft's first problem: Getting students to show up



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