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Baltimore: Charter spending

The district plans to file a federal complaint challenging a ruling by the Maryland State Board of Education that requires school systems to provide the same per-pupil spending to charter and regular public schools, according to the May 11 Baltimore Sun. Baltimore Schools Chief Bonnie Copeland is asking other superintendents to support the fight. District officials say the ruling will take funding away from students in regular schools because the system would have to include all its revenue, including federal money intended solely for poor children, in its per-pupil calculations. With that formula, Baltimore might have to provide charters with up to $11,000 per pupil. Five new charters are slated to open in Baltimore this fall, while seven existing public schools want to convert to charters.

New Orleans: Privately managed

The Orleans Parish School Board voted 4-3 to give a private management company unprecedented financial control over the school system, including the power to hire and fire workers, appoint the district’s top financial managers and grant contracts, according to the May 24 Times-Picayune. The board’s three African American members voted against the move, saying it would disenfranchise citizens who elected them. The three white members and one Hispanic voted for the plan. The New York-based company, Alvarez and Marsal, was given a $16.8 million contract and will report directly to the state superintendent. The School Board will retain authority over academic decisions. In St. Louis, Alvarez and Marsal made drastic job cuts, closed some 20 schools and cut nearly $80 million from a $500 million budget.

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Rhode Island: Teacher contracts

A business-led coalition has recommended that the state take over negotiation of teacher’s union contracts, according to a March 20 Associated Press story. The Education Partnership maintains that teacher’s unions are barriers to better schools and that the state could do a better negotiating job than individual school districts. The group also recommended having statewide standards for teacher evaluations; creating four categories of teachers and paying higher salaries to those at the top; and giving principals the power to determine curriculum, make budget decisions and hire and fire teachers.

Florida: Charter debt

Over one-fourth of the state’s charter schools are in debt and have been forced to cut services or borrow money, according to the March 15 Orlando Sentinel. Overall, 62 of 222 charters ended 2003 in the red, a state report found, and most of the charters with deficits were run by private management companies. The report found that inaccurate enrollment projections, high start-up costs and a lack of financial experience led to the big deficits. An analysis by the Sentinel found that some charters spent half as much on instruction as public schools, but two to six times as much on administration.

Massachusetts: Worst schools

Business, civic and education leaders are urging legislators and the governor to spend $90 million on the state’s worst schools over the next three years, according to the March 11 Boston Globe. The group also wants the state Education Department to form a collaborative of failing schools and work with superintendents to find the best interventions; failing schools would be allowed to pick from a variety of improvement strategies, such as longer school days.