Emergency Steps Wait in Wings for Failing Schools

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID DECAMP, The Times-Union

Under sweeping reforms to improve failing schools in Florida, school systems now can close struggling charter schools and declare states of emergency to assign quality teachers to low-performing schools, the State Board of Education decided Tuesday in Miami.

In extreme cases, these schools risk private takeovers.

The move puts the onus on five Duval County public schools to change quickly. The decision also mandates the closure of three Jacksonville charter schools -- privately run institutions -- for the 2004-05 school year, Superintendent John Fryer said.

The charters are Kreative Kids, Daniel Payne Academy and Horizons Unlimited, all of which received F's on state testing for the second time.

"If a school district grants a contract, a charter, there should be high expectations," said Gov. Jeb Bush, a charter school advocate. "If they're not met, those contracts should be shut down, in my opinion."

Jim Clark, president of Daniel Payne, a charter middle school, said he was surprised at the news and was waiting for an official order to close. Clark said comparing the school generally to other schools is "apples and oranges."

"We geared ourselves for problematic youngsters," he said, explaining the poor scores.

Leaders of other charter schools could not be reached Tuesday.

The State Board of Education, meeting in Miami, urged school boards to declare a "state of emergency" at chronically failing schools, a designation that allows them to suspend teachers' union contracts to install better-qualified teachers.

The Duval County schools affected include Raines High School and Matthew Gilbert, Eugene Butler and Ribault middle schools, which each received their second F in four years. They join Ribault High, a three-time F school, as schools that must allow their students to transfer to better-performing public schools or private schools that accept vouchers.

Education Commissioner Jim Horne said he couldn't recall if the state has ever used its emergency powers on school districts.

"I don't have much patience for folks who are interested in protecting a system or focusing too much on the adults. …