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October 21, 2014 8 min read
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| NEWS | District Dossier

Boston Superintendent’s Job Elicits Widespread Interest

New England winters can be terribly, terribly brutal. And if you’re not a Red Sox or Patriots fan, life might be pretty lonely.

Even still, there are a number of reasons why someone might want to leave, say, Florida, and move to Beantown to run the 57,000-student school district.

In Boston, world-class universities abound; some of the best medical-research centers are located there; it’s one of the most educated cities in the country; and the entire metropolis is steeped in history. Perhaps most enticing for any aspiring Boston superintendent: The city’s school district is among the most stable urban systems in the country.

At last count, 41 people (including 23 superintendents, three principals, and a brigade commander) have expressed interest in running the Boston district—America’s original public school system. Some of the would-be schools chiefs are already used to cold winters (New Hampshire and New Jersey are well represented in the group, with five candidates hailing from each of those states, and a couple of candidates from Minnesota), but other prospects would be trading in the warmer climes (and mild winters) of Texas, Florida, and Georgia.

But the downside (for some) of Boston’s cold winters is more than made up for in other ways. Here’s a selling pitch, of sorts, from Lee McGuire, the district’s chief of communications:

“Boston has an excellent reputation as a national leader in urban education,” he said. “On the [National Assessment of Educational Progress], our students tend to score among the highest of any urban district, and, at the same time, we are also among the most diverse in terms of the percentage of students with disabilities, as well as our large population of English-language learners.”

As urban systems go, Boston has mostly avoided the more recent bouts of drama and politics of, say, Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. And unlike Chicago and, until recently, New York City, where many have viewed mayoral control of schools as very top-down and heavy-handed, Boston mayors—including Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who was elected last year—have given the schools superintendents wide latitude to implement reforms and run the schools.

By any measure, the number of candidates who have signaled they want the job is not entirely out of the ballpark for a large city. Recall that the Orleans Parish school board in New Orleans, which directly oversees six schools and 10 charters, had 63 people express interest by summer, though the search there has been ongoing for two years.

- Denisa R. Superville

| NEWS | Education and the Media

Las Vegas Paper Uses Ads, Editorials To Oppose Education Ballot Measure

The Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper is going beyond editorials to oppose a measure on the Nevada ballot in November that would raise taxes on large businesses to increase funding for education. The paper has raised some eyebrows by publishing advertisements opposing the measure in its own pages.

The ad says: “Vote No! on Question 3. No Guarantees. No Accountability. Devastating for small businesses & families. Consumers would pay more.” And, as noted by Nevada political blogger Jon Ralston and media blogger Jim Romenesko, the very bottom of the ad says in small type: “A message from the Las Vegas Review-Journal.”

“My God,” Ralston wrote on his blog last week. “I’m sure this will be disclosed in all news stories from now on, right? How soon until these ads make it onto the front page?”

The measure, known as the “Education Initiative,” or Question 3, is backed by the Nevada State Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association. The state’s business community, including casino and mining interests, is fighting the initiative. Las Vegas’ two daily newspapers have editorialized against the measure, which is also known as the “margins tax.” It would impose a 2 percent tax on businesses generating more than $1 million a year in revenue.

The Review-Journal editorialized late last month that “more money, by itself, won’t make our schools better, and Question 3 includes no education reforms as part of its language.”

But it went a step further than editorial-page opposition with its house ad.

“It’s one thing for a newspaper to take a public position through its editorial board on an initiative,” said Ruben Marillo, Jr., the president of the state teachers’ union. “But it’s unusual for a paper to use ads.”

No response yet from the newspaper, though a couple of representatives have tried to touch base.

- Mark Walsh

| NEWS | Politics K-12

NEA Pouring Campaign Funding Into State-Level Races, Filings Show

The October quarterly filings for the National Education Association’s political action committee highlight the degree to which the teachers’ union is focusing efforts this election cycle on state races versus federal contests.

For starters, the NEA Advocacy Fund, the union’s “super PAC,” gave $900,000 to the Democratic Governors Association, according to its Federal Election Commission filing Oct. 14, which covers funds raised and disbursed from July 1 through Sept. 30.

In addition, the PAC directed $580,000 to PA Families First, the mission of which is to oust Pennsylvania’s Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, whose re-election hopes have all but evaporated after a months-long fiscal fight over funding the cash-strapped and beleaguered Philadelphia school system.

Still, the union is spending on some federal races. For example, the NEA Advocacy Fund also pushed $550,000 to Kentucky Family Values, which mainly plays in state legislative races, but also supports the Democratic U.S. Senate challenger in Kentucky, Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is attempting to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Republican incumbent. The teachers’ union also provided $250,000 to North Carolina Citizens for Protecting Our Schools, in an effort to prop up Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, who is running against Republican state House speaker Thom Tillis.

The 3 million-member union spent big on media and advertising this quarter. It sent $3.6 million to Waterfront Strategies, a media buying firm that serves primarily Democratic-aligned super PACs and nonprofits, according to the Center for Public Integrity. That money was used, in part, for TV ads opposing Mr. Tillis. It also directed more than $580,000 to Patriot Majority, which has conducted independent political communications for mayoral, gubernatorial, state legislative, and federal races in more than 30 states.

Overall, the union’s super PAC brought in $7.5 million since July in the run-up to the midterm elections, and with $1.3 million in cash on hand at the beginning of the filing period, it had a whopping $8.8 million to spend with just weeks left before Nov. 4. The NEA Advocacy Fund emptied most of its bank account over the three-month period—a total of $8.3 million—leaving it with just a little over $500,000 in cash on hand as of Sept. 30.

So far this year, the group has grown its coffers to $12.8 million, significantly more than its entire 2012 election cycle war chest, which totaled $9.3 million through Dec. 30. This year’s figures also dwarf those from the last midterm election cycle in 2010, when super PACs first came into play. At that time, the NEA Advocacy Funds’ receipts totaled $3.3 million and its disbursements totaled $4.9 million.

Overall, the super PAC has spent more than $11 million, again surpassing the 2012 and 2010 election cycles figures by about $2 million and $6 million, respectively.

- Lauren Camera

| NEWS | State EdWatch

Louisiana’s Teacher-Tenure Statute Upheld By State’s Supreme Court

The Louisiana Supreme Court has ruled that the state law changing teacher tenure and evaluations, approved in 2012, is constitutional, reversing a lower court decision from earlier this year.

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers challenged the law, which ties teacher pay to new evaluations, requires decisions about layoffs to be based on performance on those evaluations rather than seniority, and only grants seniority to teachers if they achieve adequate performance ratings in a certain number of years. Some of the original provisions in the 2012 law were tweaked this year.

The LFT argued in its suit that the law violated the state constitution because it dealt with too many policy reforms to be appropriate for the scope of a single piece of legislation. District Court Judge R. Michael Caldwell agreed, and struck down the law twice in two separate rulings.

But the state supreme court said in its ruling that the various components of the law “all have a natural connection” to improving public schools.

Both Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, and State Superintendent John White praised the high court’s ruling. The Louisiana union voiced disappointment, but indicated that it would shift its focus from the judicial to the legislative branch to push for changes.

- Andrew Ujifusa

| NEWS | State EdWatch

States Still Lag Pre-Recession Levels On K-12 Spending, Report Asserts

The majority of states are funding schools below the levels reached a half-dozen years ago, before the Great Recession caused significant budget cuts, according to a report from a Washington think tank released last week.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank, also found that among the 30 states still below the levels of fiscal 2008, 14 states have funding levels that are at least 10 percent lower than fiscal 2008, after adjusting for inflation.

However, the group also found that most states increased their per-student spending from fiscal 2014 to fiscal 2015.

After noting that, on average, state funding accounts for 46 percent of all K-12 spending, authors Michael Leachman and Chris Mail point out that from the start of the recession until 2012, districts had cut about 330,000 jobs. Since then, districts have restored only 70,000 of those jobs.

For fiscal 2014, the center reported that 35 states were funding public schools below their fiscal 2008 budgets.

The report includes data from states’ “major education funding formulas” and does not include local property taxes or any other form of local funding.

- Andrew Ujifusa

A version of this article appeared in the October 22, 2014 edition of Education Week as Blogs


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