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State Moves To Oust East St. Louis School Board

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State managers of the troubled East St. Louis, Ill., schools moved last week to remove the district's entire local school board after reaching an impasse over cuts in its budget.

The state took control of the impoverished 12,000-student district in October 1994, hiring a financial-oversight panel to guide the school board in budget decisions.

But tension between the local and state managers of the district reached a boiling point late last month. The seven-member local board balked at the oversight panel's directives that it give layoff notices to more than 100 nontenured employees and let Superintendent Geraldine Jenkins' contract expire.

The board instead voted 4-3 to renew Ms. Jenkins' contract.

The oversight panel said last week it needed to replace the entire school board to get the district back on track.

The board's proposed $72 million budget for the 1996-97 school year would leave it a balance of only $3,000. The oversight panel has insisted on reserves of at least $300,000.

"It is the responsibility of the board and the panel to ensure a balanced budget," said Richard Mark, the oversight panel's chairman. "The board has not met its obligation, and the panel's actions are intended to provide a framework for the achievement of a balanced budget and a strong financial base for the educational program."

Mr. Mark pointed out that although the number of layoff notices was high, the panel expected that most of the nontenured teachers could be rehired.

Mr. Mark said state officials were not opposed to Ms. Jenkins' leadership, but they believe a contract with stronger accountability and evaluation provisions is needed. At its meeting last week, the oversight panel overruled the school board and said the superintendent's $79,000-a-year contract would not be extended beyond its expiration date of May 31.

Inadequate Management

In seeking the ouster of the local board, the panel said board members had bypassed a number of other state directives, including instructions to solicit bids for contracts and consolidate district bank accounts.

"Two recent independent audits demonstrate that administrative procedures are totally inadequate," Mr. Mark said.

East St. Louis, located across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Mo., has long suffered from financial problems. And management questions have dogged nearly every public agency in the depressed city. (See Education Week, Feb. 15, 1995.)

Local board members did not return phone calls last week.

The state law that created the oversight panel gave the three-member panel final say on any district spending and the power to impose sanctions on board members, including removing them from office. State officials said the board members will serve until successors are appointed by Jed Deets, the St. Clair County regional superintendent.

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