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Ill. Board Moves To Take Over Troubled East St. Louis Schools

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The Illinois State Board of Education moved late last week to assume financial oversight of the perennially struggling East St. Louis school district.

The state board voted overwhelmingly last Thursday to rescind its earlier approval of the district's financial plan and to authorize the state superintendent, Joseph A. Spagnolo, to appoint an oversight panel for the district within 10 days.

"Students are suffering under unacceptable conditions because of the district's financial mismanagement," Mr. Spagnolo said last week.

The 14,000-student district, he said, has demonstrated "a six-year pattern of fiscal mismanagement" that keeps it from locating some of the funds it has available to improve educational conditions.

Officials of the East St. Louis district, which is $10 million in debt and plagued by a teacher shortage, had sought to avoid a takeover.

Earlier this month, district officials proposed a last-ditch plan to hire about 50 new teachers with about $200,000 from the city and another $150,000 donated by the owners of a local river gambling boat, the Casino Queen.

The proposal also called for combining some special-education classes and using surplus funds found elsewhere in its budget.

Mr. Spagnolo, however, had recommended that the board reject the plan.

Troubled History

Kim Knauer, a spokeswoman for the state board, said last week that East St. Louis has consistently failed to abide by the remedial plans it has submitted since 1988.

"The pattern has been that they would submit plans to us, and they would be approved by the state board, and then they would violate them," Ms. Knauer said in an interview.

A new law signed by Gov. Jim Edgar last month authorized the state board to rescind its approval and impose oversight where plans have not been followed.

As the state board considered such action last week, Geraldine Jenkins, the district's superintendent for the past four months, and members of the East St. Louis board argued that they were fairly new in office and should be given more time to correct the problems.

Mr. Spagnolo noted, however, that state education department staff members had recently identified more than $2 million in the district budget that officials there had not put to proper use.

Local officials contend, however, that the district received less state aid this year, despite the fact that it has one of the state's lowest property-tax bases.

Last week's state board decision leaves the local board the responsibility for running the district, but requires that the oversight panel review and approve all financial decisions.

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