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Failing Schools May Face Takeover

Failing public schools would have to recruit top teachers and craft individualized education plans for every student or risk takeover by a private contractor under tough new rules being presented today to the Florida Board of Education, The Herald has learned.

The proposed rules could also force local school boards across Florida to suspend union contracts in order to rearrange staff, possibly sending some of the most veteran teachers to the failing schools.

''If the district can't deliver, we're going to do whatever it takes to turn these schools around,'' said Frances Marine, spokeswoman for Education Commissioner Jim Horne.

``Each of these steps are meant to stop the bleeding.''

The state's school grades are set for release this morning, and any school with at least two Fs since 2001 could be forced to follow the eight new regulations.

The rules would be retroactive, applying to the five Miami-Dade schools that have already received two F's -- even if they improve in today's results.

So-called ''double-F'' schools are already required to offer their students transfers to higher-scoring public schools or taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private school.

Under the new rules, they would also be required to build a faculty in which every teacher is certified in his or her subject area and had improved student test scores in prior years.

''The district needs to do everything in its power to give the principals what they need to run the school,'' Marine said.

Neither outgoing Superintendent Merrett Stierheim or incoming Superintendent Rudolph ''Rudy'' Crew could be reached for comment Monday night.

Marine said the rules could force school boards to use a state-of-emergency power in Florida law that would permit them to suspend any portion of a union contract that stands in the way of putting the best teachers in the worst schools.

Such a move would certainly draw ire from the United Teachers of Dade.

''They just throw these things out without talking to the people who have to do it on the ground,'' said UTD director Mark Richard.

``This is like people trying to run a battle who have never been in battle -- they're only in for photo ops and sound bites, making a mockery of the hard work we have to do.''

He said the union was open to discussing solutions, but would likely fight in court any attempt to overrule the contract.

''Obviously, we're all brought up that in the law, contracts are honored,'' he said.

``All this does is once again undermine the morale, undermine the commitment and undermine the effective techniques.''

If the measure is approved, the reconstituted faculty at double-F schools would have to be in place before the fall term begins in mid-August -- a rule apparently designed to avoid the chaos some schools faced this year.

At Little Haiti's Edison Senior High, which received Fs in 2002 and 2003, constant changes left some students rotating classes and teachers for an entire semester.

If the district fails to recruit the ''high-quality staff'' described in the rules -- or misses any of the other new regulations -- the state Board of Education could hire an outside company to run the school for the following academic year.

The state board is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. at Miami Dade College's Interamerican Campus, 627 SW 27th Ave., to discuss the proposed regulations.

— Matthew I. Pinzur
Miami Herald


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