Tuesday, August 29, 2000

Adamowski foresees competitive year

By Andrea Tortora
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati Schools Superintendent Steven Adamowski views today's start of school as the district's entrance into a Renaissance.

        The district, he says, is going through drastic changes to combat shrinking enrollment, competition from charter and private schools, and to earn public approval of tax levies.

        Once a monopoly, public schools have to compete, said the leader of the Tristate's largest urban district. “A lot of transition is predict able. It's never neat and will clearly be messy and painful, but we need to negotiate those changes to survive the future.

        “The death sentence would be to do nothing,” Mr. Adamowski said.

        The district will:

        • Launch numerous building and renovation projects.

        • Aim to increase financial efficiency by directing more resources to student instruction.

        • Redesign its large high schools into smaller schools that offer specific career and academic programs.

        • Focus on early literacy initiatives.

        • Step up efforts to hold schools accountable to strict academic standards and close those schools that don't meet the bar.

        • Build a $52 million arts campus through a public-private partnership.

        • Likely implement the nation's first pay-for-performance plan for teachers.

        These changes — and the district's recent efforts to improve — are why Mr. Adamowski says he has no trouble pushing for a 6-mill levy that will go before voters in November. The levy would raise $35.8 million a year and cost the owner of a $100,000 home $184 a year in new taxes. The levy has not had unanimous support.

        Tom Brinkman, with the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, said the levy amount is excessive.

        “If you could stay within the rate of inflation, you could help heal this community and stop driving a wedge between the community and its public schools,” Mr. Brinkman said.

        Rick Williams, president of the Cincinnati Board of Education, said Mr. Adamowski is carrying out the mandates he was given by the board.

        “It is really exciting when we look at all of the things occurring with the district,” Mr. Williams said. “As a whole, so much is coming together that it lets you have hope for the future of the students.

        “Our only limitation has been the levy. If we can get this levy passed, we will be able to make changes and to fund future programs,” he said.

        Mr. Adamowski asked voters to take note of what has already been done. The cost of the central office is down to 5 percent of the system's $376.9 million budget after he cut staff from 320 to 240 over the last three years.

        He also noted that Cincinnati closes, and then redesigns, low-performing schools and has made reading success a priority. This summer, that resulted in mandatory summer school for students who failed the reading proficiency test.

        Competition from charter schools, private schools and parents' desire to have more choice in their children's education is forcing the district to rethink how it does business.

        “Highly professional organizations don't operate the way schools used to,” Mr. Adamowski said. “They allow autonomy.”

        And that's what Cincinnati's board of education has done.

        Committees at each school make budget and other operating decisions. In the past, the school board set blanket policies for all schools.

        At the same time the district is poised to become the first in the nation to implement a pay-for-performance teacher evaluation system that would give teachers raises based on how well they do their jobs rather than how long they have served.

        “I'm more optimistic now than when I came here,” Mr. Adamowski said.


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