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'Looking Top to Bottom' in Troubled Illinois School District

The superintendent of a troubled Illinois school district told the state's board of education today that she's aware of the district's many problems—including in special education—and looks forward to state intervention.

"We struggle in several areas," East St. Louis District 189 Superintendent Theresa Saunders conceded to the board. She noted in particular the dismal academic state of one of the district's high schools and the district's lack of compliance in special education. She said the district has a new special education director in place this school year who is still learning the job.

Those compliance issues include hiring 23 special education-related employees, including psychologists, teachers, and speech pathologists. And, 975 IEPs for the current school year are in need of review. These issues were different than those raised previously by the state. (Thanks to IDEA Money Watch for the heads up.)

In a visit to the district last week, state Superintendent Chris Koch said "a number of evaluations were taking place, fast and furious."

One way or another, the state plans to get involved in East St. Louis, Mr. Koch told the state board. The school district's board can vote to agree to the intervention. If they don't, the district could be dissolved.

Once the state is involved, they won't only be looking at special education matters and others that prompted their action, Mr. Koch said.

"We're also going to be looking from top to bottom," at the district, he said. "We feel that approach is necessary or we wouldn't be bringing it to the board." The state found that in East St. Louis, administrative costs comprise 8.7 percent of the district budget, compared to 3.5 percent statewide. The district, with about 8,000 students, had the largest percentage of administrative costs when compared to districts of a similar size.

The state wants an answer from the East St. Louis school board before its May meeting. Earlier this year, the state intervened in the North Chicago district, which was having its own problems. The actions in East St. Louis and North Chicago could be a sign of things to come: Dozens of districts are on a state watch list for academic problems that have lasted for at least four years.

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