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Chicago School Board's Restructuring Plan Rejected

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Declaring that the Chicago Board of Education is incapable of decentralizing the school system's bureaucracy, an oversight panel has announced that it will launch its own investigation into what the city's schools need and want from the administration.

The decision by the School Finance Authority to reject the board's broad plan for carrying out 1988 state legislation radically revising Chicago's school-governance structure was the most recent in a series of blows to the school board.

School-reform advocates also denounced a separate document, prepared by General Superintendent Ted D. Kimbrough at the request of the board, that spells out in more detail how the restructuring plan will be carried out.

The board of education "doesn't get the message,'' complained Philip D. Block, the chairman of the School Finance Authority. "The whole idea of school reform was to push resources and people down to the lowest possible level--namely the local schools--and it just doesn't seem to be happening.''

The finance authority's 4-to-1 vote on March 25 to reject the restructuring plan came after the panel had sent the document back to the administration for revision several times.

"It's been four years,'' Mr. Block said. "It's time to do something, rather than more planning to plan.''

The chairman of the finance authority, a five-member group appointed by the governor and the mayor of Chicago, added that it may be necessary to seek legislation to compel the changes in central administration if the board of education cannot produce a satisfactory plan by April 24.

Advocates Protest

In arguing in favor of the plan, called the "1992-94 Systemwide Educational Reform Goals and Objectives,'' Mr. Kimbrough said it was not possible or desirable to entirely dismantle the administration.

"The S.F.A. seems to overlook the fact that the school board has legal mandates at the state and federal level that we are required by law to fulfill and cannot ignore,'' he said in a statement.

The superintendent also argued that prolonging the approval of the restructuring plan was a "disservice'' to the city's schools, which need the document as soon as possible in order to draft their own school-improvement plans.

Linda Matsumoto, the spokesman for Mr. Kimbrough and the board of education, pointed out that the public had been given the opportunity to comment on the plan during hearings held by a board subcommittee.

The other document under discussion is a proposed five-year blueprint for carrying out the reform law's broad objectives, entitled "Systemic Restructuring: Transforming Teaching and Learning--A Five-Year Plan.'' It also has provoked protests from school advocates, who contend it was developed by the superintendent and the board without sufficient involvement of the public.

Ms. Matsumoto noted, however, that some principals and members of local school councils were involved in drafting the plan.

A March 23 public hearing on the five-year plan erupted into angry denunciations of the administration that later spilled over into a board of education meeting the same week.

One criticism was that the management plan was released before a consultant's $1-million study of the Chicago public-school administration, paid for by local foundations and businesses, could be completed.

"You don't let people say we'll help you and let them put up money and then when they get in middle of doing it, make the decision that this is the way it's going to be,'' said Joan Jeter Slay, the associate director of Designs for Change, a school-reform advocacy and research organization.

'Makework' Proposals?

Ms. Slay observed that the existence of two plans for decentralizing the administration appeared to cause some confusion among finance-authority members.

One of the authority members, she said, questioned "who was making policy here.''

Some of the proposals contained in both plans have drawn praise, including recommendations to expand the availability of early-childhood programs and lengthen the school day and year.

But in the systemwide goal plan, for example, the board proposed setting the content of each course, grade by grade. Such a scheme "totally removes the councils' power to deal with curricula,'' Ms. Slay said, thereby violating the school-reform legislation's intent.

Ms. Slay said the detailed plan proposes that administrators, reassigned to subdistrict offices, would "go around and monitor'' the schools' compliance with various goals and policies.

As a strategy for "eliminating administrative impediments to school improvement,'' the plan suggests having administrators write a series of procedural manuals.

In an editorial, the Chicago Tribune blasted that idea as "a twisting of the legal mandate for reform into a fresh excuse for job-preserving makework.''

The first strategy detailed in the plan, described as a way to "disassemble the Central Service Center at Pershing Road,'' involves moving the general superintendent, the board of education, and their top staff members to a new location downtown. The rest of the administrative staff would remain in the former board headquarters on the city's southwest side.

The board of education is scheduled to vote on a final version of the five-year restructuring plan, which does not require the approval of the School Finance Authority, at the end of June, Ms. Matsumoto said.

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