News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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N.M. Legislature Passes Bill That Includes Merit-Pay Plan

The New Mexico legislature has approved and sent to the governor a measure that would establish a pilot incentive-pay program for teachers.

The measure, part of a multifaceted education package given final legislative approval March 16, would create monetary incentives for teacher improvement. For a school to participate in the program, 70 percent of its teachers would have to agree. ("Teacher-Quality Bill Comes Down To Wire in New Mexico," March 21, 2001.)

Teachers who earned certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards or who met best-teaching-practice criteria to be set by an advisory committee would earn one-time bonuses of $3,000.

All teachers would receive $400 each if they were working at participating schools that were rated "probationary" but were improving quickly.

Individual teachers would be eligible for $2,500 if they demonstrated effectiveness under criteria to be identified by the advisory committee. Such evaluations would judge a teacher's effectiveness not only by the improvement of his or her students' test scores, but also by such factors as attendance, parental involvement, and student poverty, said Rep. Mimi Stewart, a Democrat, who worked on the final draft in a conference committee.

In the original proposal, teachers would have qualified for the $2,500 payments solely on the basis of their students' test-score improvement.

As of last week, the proposed program's future was uncertain. Gov. Gary E. Johnson, a Republican, already signed a budget that includes $66 million for an 8 percent teacher-pay raise, and he has said the state lacks the money to cover the new education package.

—Catherine Gewertz

Pa. Governor Wants Aide as Chief

Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania has nominated one of his longtime advisers to replace Eugene W. Hickok as that state's top education official.

Charles B. Zogby, the Republican governor's policy director, will become the acting secretary of education beginning March 31. The state Senate must confirm his nomination.

Mr. Zogby, 39, will assume a post held since 1995 by Mr. Hickok, who is President Bush's choicesubject to confirmation by the U.S. Senateto be the undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Education, the agency's No. 3 post.

As an adviser to Gov. Ridge for 12 years, Mr. Zogby has helped craft some of the governor's highest-priority school policies, including statewide reading and technology efforts and a controversial program for state intervention in low-performing schools.

"Charles has helped to develop and implement every one of my administration's accomplishments," Mr. Ridge said in a written statement. "He has been an innovative and effective education policymaker."

Mr. Zogby's résumé includes stints on GOP political campaigns and one in Washington as the legislative director for then-U.S. Rep. Ridge in the early 1990s.

—Robert C. Johnston

N.Y. State Eyes District Takeover

New York state education officials are recommending a state takeover of the Roosevelt school district on Long Island as the best approach to bringing stability and increased student achievement to the long-ailing system.

The state education department has had oversight of Roosevelt Junior-Senior High School—the district's only secondary school—since 1995, but that role expires at the end of June. The proposed new arrangement, which requires the approval of the legislature, would give the state additional power and would amount to New York's first full-fledged takeover of a school district.

Under the proposal, which was made public this month, the state board of regents would appoint a new school board for the district, and the state education commissioner could either appoint a new superintendent or hire a management company to run the 3,000-student, five- school district.

Assemblyman Steven Sanders, the chairman of the education committee of the New York legislature's lower house, said that because the district has been in bad shape for more than a decade, state lawmakers were sure to agree to a plan for change. "I don't think there's any question that the legislature and the [education] department will have to arrive at a consensus before the end of June," the Democratic legislator said.

—Bess Keller

Audit: Mass. Misspent Ed. Money

A state audit of the Massachusetts Department of Education's technology division has concluded that consultants to the agency spent millions of dollars on parties, trips, food, and other questionable expenses.

State Auditor A. Joseph DeNucci found that in 1999 and 2000, the education department paid eight consulting companies $14.3 million to cover the salaries for 126 consultants. The auditor charged that the consultants operated without proper oversight by the department, resulting in more than $3 million in undocumented or inadequately documented expenses. In all, the department may have wasted as much as $9 million, according to audit.

Among other findings, the audit concludes that the education department passed its own expenses on to consultants, who charged the department after marking up prices as much as 10 percent; circumvented state finance laws by prepaying a consultant before services were rendered; paid consultants for working when state offices were closed for holidays; and violated state law by allowing consultants to supervise state employees.

Officials from the department could not immediately be reached for comment late last week. But Commissioner of Education David P. Driscoll said in an interview with the Boston Herald that mistakes had been made in the use of consultants. "It worked for a while, but then I think we got carried away," he was quoted as telling the newspaper. "We started to use the third-party vendor too much."

—John Gehring

Vol. 20, Issue 28, Page 20

Published in Print: March 28, 2001, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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