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Cleveland Civic Group Calls for School Reforms

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The Cleveland school district needs to overhaul how it does business if it is to gain public confidence and improve the schooling of its 71,000 students, according to a report commissioned by the Cleveland Initiative for Education.

The report, presented to the city's school board last month, contends that "the district needs better planning, information, facilities management, and procurement processes if it is to improve morale and focus all parties on a common educational mission.''

Prepared over eight months by a 10-member committee of civic and business leaders, the Cleveland Initiative report represents an attempt by community members to help guide the efforts of Sammie Campbell Parrish, the district's new superintendent, and the school board, several members of which were elected last year as part of a reform slate.

James M. Carney and Gary J. Kucinich, two members who had dominated the previous board, last week described the report as containing many good ideas, but few new ones.

Moreover, Mr. Carney and Mr. Kucinich charged that many of the report's recommendations are thinly disguised attempts by local business interests that had backed the new board members to gain more of the district's business.

The two board members said they were especially suspicious of the report's suggestion that the district reconsider its 1991 decision to become self-insured for both health care and workers' compensation. The report says that the district may not be able to control its expenses on claims and other costs. Mr. Carney alleged that the recommendation is intended to create business for private insurers.

Ms. Parrish told a civic group she would use the report in making recommendations on cutting costs and improving educational outcomes.

Purchasing System Faulted

Among other findings, the report contends that "excessive board involvement'' in the daily operation of the district and its failure to clearly define responsibilities are to blame for much of the school system's failure to become better managed.

The report is also highly critical of the district's purchasing system, which it terms a complex, centralized process for approving purchases that typically ends up paying market prices instead of reduced prices for bulk purchases. Such a system, the report says, "fails to capture the benefits of either a centralized or a decentralized process.''

The panel also recommends that the board begin its budget process 30 to 45 days earlier and solicit public comment at the beginning, rather than the middle, of the process.

The district must take a more pro-active, coordinated approach in managing its facilities, the report says. Currently, it notes, the district lacks a comprehensive data base detailing needed repairs; data are purged if no action is taken after two years.

The report also urges the district to create a long-term strategic plan for improving its information systems and to establish a committee of community representatives to address the problem of underused facilities.

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