News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Tough Day at the Polls For Illinois Tax Votes

Tax hikes that would have raised more money for education in Illinois were voted down in 48 of 60 local school district referendums, or 80 percent of the ballot initiatives held across the state on Nov. 5.

Those rejections played out against a backdrop of fiscal uncertainty in Illinois classrooms. State officials recently estimated that 85 percent of the state's school districts were operating with budget deficits. (Illinois Districts Using Red Ink to Pen Budgets, Nov. 6, 2002.)

In addition, Illinois' fiscal 2003 education budget was $176 million, or 4 percent below the previous year.

The fiscal crunch has renewed calls by some education advocates for the state to reduce its dependence on local property taxes to pay for education, and raise the share it contributes.

That point was not missed by voters, some observers say.

Leslie P. Lipschultz, the coordinator for Network 21, a coalition of business, labor, and civic organizations devoted to reforming school finance in Illinois, did not interpret the losses at the polls as an across-the-board rejection of new taxes. The poor economy had a part in the outcomes, she said.

But she also believes voters want the state to chip in more for schools, before they do. "They'd like to see the state step up to its responsibility," Ms. Lipschultz said.

—Sean Cavanagh

Bilingual Education Foe Joins Mass. Transition Team

Gov.-elect Mitt Romney of Massachusetts has hired Lincoln Tamayo, the man who led the campaign to dismantle bilingual education there, as a member of his transition team.

Mr. Tamayo, formerly the principal of Chelsea High School in Massachusetts, was the chairman of English for the Children of Massachusetts, the organization that persuaded voters to approve a Nov. 5 state ballot initiative that replaces most bilingual education programs in the state with English immersion. (Colo. Extends Bilingual Ed., But Mass. Voters Reject It, Nov. 13, 2002.)

Mr. Romney, a Republican, supported the initiative during the race for governor. His Democratic opponent in the gubernatorial race, Shannon O'Brien, opposed the bilingual education measure.

Mr. Tamayo will serve on the transition team from afar, however, because just last week he moved to Tampa, Fla., where he has been hired to start a private school for children from low-income families.

He said he will occasionally travel to Massachusetts for face-to- face meetings, but will primarily do the job through telecommunications.

— Mary Ann Zehr

N.J. Students Sign Up For Governor's Book Club

Book clubs aren't just for literary-minded adults.

More than 40,000 students in New Jersey have signed on as members of Gov. James McGreevey's Book Club since it was announced in September.

The program launched by the Democratic chief executive calls for students in grades K-3 to read the same books at the same time statewide. Selections for the club are announced the first Thursday of every month.

The club is run in partnership with the governor's office, the state Office of Early Literacy, and Scholastic Inc., which contributes copies of each selection to schools.

Children can sign up for the club on the Web at the Bookclub's homepage. The site also includes student-penned reviews of the books.

—Robert C. Johnston

Flood-Recovery Contracts Spell Trouble for West Virginia

Allegations of misconduct over contracts for flood-related school repairs are behind a flurry of investigations in West Virginia, and have led to the resignation of an assistant state schools superintendent.

The controversy stems from contracts awarded by the state education department to help the McDowell and Wyoming school systems—which have about 4,000 students each— recover from severe flooding in July 2001.

With a month to go before students were due back in school following the flooding, state school officials waived normal purchasing procedures for 30 days to expedite repairs. The state spent more than $11 million in both districts.

A review by state investigators revealed that one company had charged $2.3 million to replace flood-damaged furniture—nearly four times the going rate for the furniture that was purchased.

The contracts were awarded by Assistant State Superintendent of Schools G.A. McClung, who at the time directed the division of administrative services.

Mr. McClung is alleged to have awarded the contracts without reviewing offers from competing vendors.

He was initially put on suspension, but chose to resign Nov. 1. State schools Superintendent David Stewart has assumed Mr. McClung's duties until further notice.

Three state agencies, including the education department, were continuing their investigations into the contracts late last week, a spokeswoman for the department said.

—Marianne Hurst

Vol. 22, Issue 12, Page 16

Published in Print: November 20, 2002, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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