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3 States Move To Intervene In Failing School Districts

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State education officials in Kentucky, Texas, and New Mexico have moved to intervene in the affairs of school districts charged with financial mismanagement or inadequate educational performance.

The three states are among six that provide for state intervention in substandard districts. West Virginia became the latest to join the group with the enactment of a massive school-reform law this month; the others are New Jersey and South Carolina.

In Kentucky, the state board of education in July cited nepotism and lax financial management in its decision to assume control of the financial affairs of the Pike County district, the state's third-largest.

A consultant's report on the school system concluded that layoffs in the coal industry had put pressure on the county school board to hire more employees.

"Instability in the coal market has contributed to a high rate of unemployment and has stimulated competition for jobs in the school district,'' the report noted. "This competition leads to undesirable political pressures being applied to the board of education and superintendent for employment.'' The report also cites numerous management problems in the district, and points in particular to a $2.3-million deficit in the 1986-1987 school year.

Under a provision of the takeover law, the county board cannot make purchases or hire employees without the written approval of the state superintendent of public instruction, John Brock.

Mr. Brock has met with local school officials and has appointed a representative to oversee the district in the coming school year, said Gordon Nichols, spokesman for the state education department.

In September, the board will consider taking control over both fiscal and academic matters in the neighboring Floyd County school system, Mr. Nichols said.

"They have had deficit problems the past two years, and they have not shown satisfactory progress toward meeting a minimum academic program,'' he said.

Similar Move in Texas

The Texas board of education, meanwhile, has voted to strip a rural district in the northern part of the state of its accreditation due to a variety of shortcomings.

The board voted unanimously on July 9 to take the action against the Westminster Independent School District, which has 176 students in kindergarten through the 12th grade. The move marked the first time that the board had revoked a district's accreditation.

State officials cited a lax curriculum, neglect of facilities, failure to complete paperwork, and other factors for taking the action.

"It's been a pervasive problem,'' said Terri Moore, a spokesman for the Texas Education Agency.

She noted that the district had been warned on several occasions since the 1950's that its accreditation status was in jeopardy.

The state appointed a special master last year to review the Westminster board's decisions, but Ms. Moore said the move was not enough to correct the district's problems. "There is only so much a master can do without the cooperation of community officials,'' she said.

The district has a chance for a reprieve when an accreditation team returns in November to see if improvements have been made.

Local school officials vow to make enough progress to convince the board to reverse its decision.

"I believe when they come back in the fall, they will determine that what we have done is sufficient,'' said Virgil Tate, the district's superintendent.

But state officials doubt the district can improve that fast.

"It's not impossible, but it's unlikely,'' said Ms. Moore.

Financial Takeover

In New Mexico, the state education department has assumed financial control of the Santa Rosa Consolidated School District.

State officials acted after the Santa Rosa system ended the school year with a $100,000 deficit.

In June, the state board moved to lower the district's accreditation status to "approved warned,'' which requires district officials to make certain improvements.

New Mexico law allows the department to take over districts that cannot meet accreditation standards.--RRW, MW, & LJ

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