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State Journal: Resignation; Closing loopholes

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The superintendent of the first district in the nation to undergo a complete takeover by the state has quit, reportedly over clashes with the New Jersey state schools chief.

State and local officials confirmed last week that Elena Scambio had left her post as the state-appointed superintendent of the Jersey City schools, but they refused to give the reason.

In a letter that Ms. Scambio purportedly wrote to Commissioner of Education Leo Klagholz, which was published in The Star-Ledger of Newark, she cited professional differences.

Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, who appointed Mr. Klagholz, wants to give Jersey City a shot at a pilot voucher program, which Ms. Scambio says would jeopardize progress made since the state took over nearly five years ago.

Ms. Scambio and Mr. Klagholz also disagreed over a punishment for two of Ms. Scambio's aides who have been accused of wrongdoing involving a consultant's contract.

Peter Contini, the state's assistant commissioner for field services, is now the acting superintendent.

A Texas judge has thwarted a novel attempt by the Calhoun County school district to give a property-tax break to a local business in exchange for a large donation to the local schools.

Under the current school-finance law, officials of the Gulf Coast district would have lost property-tax proceeds to poorer districts--but the donation would have been all theirs.

State District Court Judge Scott McCown, whose courtroom in the state capital has been abuzz with school-finance activity in recent years, quickly put an end to the deal.

Under state law, he said, local jurisdictions are responsible for making up any revenue that is shed through tax abatements like the one Calhoun County had arranged for the Formosa Plastics Corporation.

The state requires its wealthiest districts to choose an option for sharing property-tax revenues with poor schools in an effort to equalize spending. A challenge to that system, which Judge McCown upheld, is now before the state supreme court.

Meanwhile, the judge said he wanted to send a strong message to wealthy districts that there is no easy way out.

He added, however, that he expects districts to continue looking for loopholes.

"The creativity of lawyers knows no end,'' the judge said.--KAREN DIEGMUELLER & LONNIE HARP

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