A History of Intervention

January 09, 2002 4 min read
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While Pennsylvania’s new control of the Philadelphia schools marks the largest state takeover of a school district, other districts around the country have been the subjects of intervention in their governance systems or management over the past decade or so. Here’s a look at some prominent examples.


Current Enrollment: 96,000

1997 Intervention: The state and the city became partners in running the school district.

Status: The city-state partnership resulted in the mayor and the governor’s joint appointment of a nine-member board of school commissioners. In 2000, the state contracted with Edison Schools Inc. to operate three Baltimore elementary schools, which were among Maryland’s poorest performers academically.


Current Enrollment: 63,000

1991 Intervention: Massachusetts lawmakers passed legislation abolishing the elected Boston school committee and allowing the city’s mayor to appoint a seven-member committee to oversee the district.

Status: In 1996, Boston voters rejected, by a ratio of 2-to-1, a referendum that would have replaced the mayorally appointed school committee with an elected one.

Chester-Upland, Pa.

Current Enrollment: 5,900

1994 Intervention: The state seized control of the district’s finances.

Status: In 2000, the Pennsylvania legislature enacted a law that required the state education commissioner to appoint a three-member panel to oversee all district operations. Last year, the panel contracted with Edison Schools Inc. to run nine of the district’s 13 schools, while Mosaica Education Inc. was hired to run an elementary school.


Current Enrollment: 431,000

1995 Intervention: The Illinois legislature gave the mayor control of the school district. The mayor is charged with appointing the district’s chief executive officer and school board members, including the board president.

Status: Handpicked by Mayor Richard M. Daley six years ago, Paul G. Vallas, the district’s chief executive officer, and Gery J. Chico, the school board president, resigned last year after being criticized by the mayor for stagnant test scores. Arne Duncan now serves as the Chicago system’s CEO, while Michael Scott was named the new board president.


Current Enrollment: 75,000

1995 Intervention: A U.S. District Court shifted control to the state.

Status: In 1997, the Ohio legislature gave control of the school system to the mayor. The mayor appoints the nine-member school board and the district’s chief executive officer. Next fall, Cleveland voters will consider whether to keep the appointed board or return to an elected one.

Compton, Calif.

Current Enrollment: 33,000

1993 Intervention: The state seized control of the district.

Status: A state administrator was assigned to run the district, and the school board was stripped of its powers. Last month, California returned the district to local control, and a new superintendent was hired. A state trustee continues to monitor the district, however.


Current Enrollment: 168,000

1999 Intervention: A state law replaced the city’s locally elected school board with an appointed, seven-member board. Detroit’s mayor appoints six members; the Michigan governor chooses the seventh.

Status: The appointed board hired its first permanent superintendent in 2000.

District of Columbia

Current Enrollment: 68,000

1995 Intervention: A financial control board was created by the U.S. Congress to oversee the District of Columbia government. The control board established a board of trustees to run Washington’s school district.

Status: In 1999, voters approved a referendum to shrink the school board from 11 to nine members, four of whom were appointed by the mayor the following year. Last year, the financial control board returned control of the school system to the local school board, whose other five members are elected.

Hartford, Conn.

Current Enrollment: 24,000

1997 Intervention: Connecticut lawmakers dissolved the locally elected school board, replacing it with a board of trustees appointed by the governor for a five-year term.

Status: In a June 2001 special legislative session, the 1997 takeover law was amended. In November, four members of the school board will be elected, with the three remaining members to be appointed by the mayor in consultation with state lawmakers and officials. The appointments must be approved by the city council.

Jersey City, N.J.

Current Enrollment: 31,300

1989 Intervention: The state took over the district after alleging mismanagement, patronage in hiring, and violations of state contract-bidding laws.

Status: In 2000, the New Jersey state board of education approved returning control of the district’s budget and finances to the Jersey City school board. The state board’s action is part of a gradual transition to local governance that began in 1999.

Newark, N.J.

Current Enrollment: 41,400

1995 Intervention: A state- supervised management team assumed leadership of the district after state officials charged that local school leaders were not providing students with an adequate education.

Status: Newark has made some modest gains in meeting New Jersey’s academic standards, along with the goals outlined in the district’s strategic plan for school improvement.

Paterson, N.J.

Current Enrollment: 25,000

1991 Intervention: New Jersey officials took control of the district after the district’s students consistently performed poorly on state tests.

Status: Paterson has made gains in meeting state standards, in addition to the benchmarks detailed in the district’s strategic plan for school improvement.

SOURCES: Education Commission of the States and Education Week

A version of this article appeared in the January 09, 2002 edition of Education Week as A History of Intervention


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