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[Susan notes: Here's a solid warning, using national examples to bring home point about a local story.]

Published in New York Times

To the editor

Re “Troubled School District Is on Road to Recovery” (news article, Aug. 16):

It is good to know that the Roosevelt Union Free School District has improved since a takeover by New York State in 2002, but people have to realize that this move was not likely to be a panacea for all that ailed education in this Long Island community.

State takeovers in the 19 states that have assumed control of 49 school districts are almost always a result of low academic performance and mismanagement, as was the case in Roosevelt. Generally, the school board is pushed aside, as happened in Roosevelt, but there are limits to what even the state can accomplish when it temporarily changes the governance structure.

New Jersey, beginning in 1989, took over the school systems in Jersey City, Paterson and Newark and still has not entirely restored full control to the local school boards, which suffered from allegations of fraud and mismanagement — not to mention a pathetic level of student achievement.

Missouri appointed a special administrative board to assume governance of the St. Louis Public School District in 2007 and has yet to relinquish control. Louisiana is hoping for the best in New Orleans, another state takeover still in effect.

State officials across the country have grown chary of ousting local school boards as the state may end up in what amounts to a long-term occupation with only small victories to show for the time and money invested. The states face a dilemma: leave troubled school boards in place or take over without any assurance of great outcomes.

The writer is a senior fellow at Teachers College, Columbia University, and a former national education correspondent for The New York Times.

Gene I. Maeroff

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