News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Report Favors Mergers of N.J. Districts

New Jersey should look to regionalization as a cure for inefficiencies in its current arrangement of school districts, a report issued last week says.

The final report of the 12-member New Jersey Regionalization Advisory Panel calls for new state laws to bring about greater economic and academic efficiencies in local schools through regionalization--combining districts and sharing services. The state has 618 school districts, including 24 non-operating districts.

The panel says there are two possible ways to promote regionalization of districts: voluntary action or legislative mandate.

"For decades, educators and elected officials have complained that 618 school districts in New Jersey are too many and are not in the best interest of serving students," Michael Bibb, the chairman of the advisory panel, said in a statement.

"Stronger incentives are needed if districts are going to consider regionalizing," said Frank Belluscio, the spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association. "We stop short of mandated regionalization."

The report recommends offering greater incentives for districts to regionalize and eliminating districts that do not operate schools of their own.

Antonucci Stepping Down as Mass. Schools Chief

Robert V. Antonucci announced last week that he is resigning as Massachusetts' commissioner of education to become the president of a distance-learning company.

Mr. Antonucci, 52, will head ICS Learning Systems Inc., a Scranton, Pa.-based subsidiary of the publisher Harcourt General Inc.

As schools chief in Massachusetts since 1992, Mr. Antonucci has led the implementation of the state's 1993 reform law that included charter schools, a new finance formula, and the development of core academic-learning standards.

Mr. Antonucci is a former superintendent of the Falmouth, Mass., district and a former administrator in the Lunenberg and Leominster districts, also in Massachusetts.

ICS Learning Systems has 1,000 employees and serves some 400,000 students worldwide with distance-learning programs. His resignation takes effect early next month. The state board of education will choose a new commissioner.

Va. Gets Surprise Shift in State Board

Virginia's new governor unseated his state's school board president last week, surprising conservatives who had praised Michelle Easton for her support of charter schools and strict new academic standards.

Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican, announced that he would replace Ms. Easton, whose term has expired, with Kirk T. Schroder, a Richmond-based lawyer who has worked with Mr. Gilmore. The governor also appointed Jennifer Byler, a marketing analyst from Virginia Beach, to fill another vacancy on the nine-member board. The legislature must confirm the appointments.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Gilmore said last week that the governor's decision to oust Ms. Easton was in no way a criticism of the academic standards that the former board president championed.

"This is not a change in ideology, but a change in style," said Lila Young, the governor's deputy press secretary. The governor, who took office last month, would simply like his own people around him, she said.

Chiles Announces Plan for More School Nurses

Teachers and secretaries in Florida public schools would get some needed help ministering to the aches and pains of students under a state plan to hire more than 200 school nurses this year.

The $10.3 million plan, announced by Gov. Lawton Chiles late last month, would lower the statewide nurse-to-student ratio from one for each of the state's 3,000 students to one for every 2,440 students, according to state estimates. The measure still requires legislative approval.

The Democratic governor announced the plan at R. Frank Nims Middle School in Tallahassee. Joining Gov. Chiles at his press conference was Dr. James Howell, the secretary of the state health department, and Jill Klein, a Leon County school nurse who is currently assigned to cover the health needs of some 35,000 students in 44 schools, including Nims Middle School.

Although the state education department recommends one nurse for every 1,500 students, the National Association of School Nurses advises schools to keep an even lower ratio of one-to-750.

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