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State Takeover of Jersey City Schools Seen Yielding Significant Improvements

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The state takeover of the Jersey City, N.J., schools has resulted in significant educational, managerial, and fiscal improvements for the troubled district, an independent evaluation has concluded.

The report adds, however, that the takeover should be extended past the planned five years to insure the changes take permanent hold before a return to local control.

The "takeover is working,'' the first of what will be annual assessments of the arrangement by the consulting firm Arthur Andersen & Company contends.

"By most reasonable measures, quantitative and qualitative, the Jersey City Public Schools have improved substantially since takeover,'' says the report, which was submitted to the joint public school committee of the legislature and made public last week.

The report urges state officials to consider extending the period of state control by up to three years. Under the current arrangement, a return to local control could occur as early as the 1994-95 academic year.

"The substantial progress that has occurred in providing thorough and efficient education to the children of Jersey City could be affected adversely if state control ends in two years,'' the report concludes. "We believe that up to three additional years beyond the 1994-95 school year are needed to implement the programs and controls to institutionalize quality education.''

The report also calls for a transition year before local control is restored, as well as for a plan to address ongoing state monitoring, training for local administrators and school board members, and other issues.

Progress in Five Major Areas

The state board of education voted to take control of the Jersey City district in 1989 under the state's pioneering "academic bankruptcy'' law. The board acted in response to reports of chronic fiscal mismanagement, nepotism, cronyism, and crumbling school buildings. (See Education Week, Oct. 11, 1989.)

The action abolished the local school board and removed the superintendent and other top officials, replacing them with state appointees.

In 1991, the state board used the takeover law to seize control of the Paterson district, which had failed to meet minimum state education standards since 1976.

The Arthur Andersen report evaluated the Jersey City takeover in five major areas: management, educational programs, community relations, finance, and facilities. Significant progress has been made in each area, the report indicates.

District schools have been reorganized into clusters of elementary and high schools, the report notes, and principals now have greater control of their buildings than before.

Enrollment has increased 9 percent since the takeover, to more than 30,000 students, the report says.

The district also has revised curriculum at all levels and has introduced a career-education program in grades K to 12.

In addition, tough new financial controls on district funds have been instituted, the report found.

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