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State Journal: Ranklin' ranks; Right in the heart

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A recent flap in Kentucky shows how state efforts to rank school districts on the basis of efficiency can stir up a hornets' nest of allegations of unfairness and breed frustration among districts near the bottom of the list.

Under a 1985 reform law, state officials have tracked the management and financial efficiency of districts using a formula based on such factors as transportation costs, administrative spending, and student test scores.

Districts that have scored poorly on the scale have been supplied with management assistance. But the overall rankings were not made public.

Last month, however, education department officials released the most recent data under the state's open-records law.

The rankings revealed a wide range of managerial efficiency. The rural Glasgow district had the best score, 820, while Covington, a Cincinnati suburb, had the worst at 4,335.

The toughest news was for the largest districts, many of which received poor ratings.

District officials said the scores did not reflect the higher costs of managing a large system and penalized their improvement efforts.

Perhaps the angriest response came from Jefferson County, the largest district.

Because of the high costs of desegregation-related transportation in Louisville and spending for other programs, Jefferson finished 155th out of 177 districts. A similar ranking next year could make the system eligible for state management assistance.

The low mark was particularly upsetting to residents of the city, where the system has earned widespread favorable recognition for its school-reform efforts.

"The data is erroneous and improperly applied to this school district," said the school superintendent, Donald Ingwerson. "I can't make those words too harsh or too severe in this case."

The Colorado Commission on School Finance last month called for $18 million in new state money to enable districts to reduce K-3 classes to no more than 25 students.

Even as they approved the recommendation, however, commission members conceded there was little chance the legislature would provide the additional aid.

Earlier, Senator Al Meiklejohn, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, had said the commission should ask the legislature for an inflation adjustment for the schools.

"This commission ought to recommend what's right," he said, adding, "We know in our hearts, it won't happen."--hd

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