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News items come from the U.S. Department of Educations's National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities (NCEF).

Calling to rescind ‘out-of-time’ status for four city schools

New York: July 30, 2015 -- The New York State Education Commissioner is being asked to prevent the closing of four Buffalo schools. State Assembly members Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Sean Ryan were joined by Western New York Regents representative Catherine Collins outside Lafayette High School in Buffalo on Wednesday. "It would be a mistake to close Lafayette High School. Tt would also be a mistake to close the three schools in Buffalo that are called out-of-time schools by the State Education Department," stated Assemblyman Ryan. Bennett High School, Lafayette High School, East High School, and Martin Luther King Multicultural School #39 are all designated by the State Education Department (SED) at “out-of-time”. The leaders are calling on Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to 'rescind' the out-of-time plan that would close Lafayette and three other failing schools.

Education Department Maps School Boundaries
-- Sarah D. Sparks, Education Week

National: July 29, 2015 -- Sometimes districts need a 20,000-foot look at how their policies affect students. A soon-to-be-released federal mapping project will give district leaders that perspective when it comes to school attendance zones. The School Attendance Boundary Survey, expected to be released this summer, will include maps of the attendance zones of some 90 percent of all schools in the country. The survey, and an accompanying mapping tool expected to be out in November, will help districts plan school sites and reduce gerrymandering that can lead to racial segregation in schools.

Md. Senator Demanding Answers After Dire Conditions Found Inside City School
-- Meghan McCorkell, CBS Baltimore

Maryland: July 29, 2015 -- Peeling paint, live wires and mold–all found inside a Baltimore City school. Now a state senator is demanding answers from the school system about what he calls an emergency situation. Meghan McCorkell has the disturbing images from inside the building. The senator says even though school doesn’t start until August 31, someone has dropped the ball on giving students what was promised. Live wires sticking out of a wall, mold growing on the ceiling, carpets filthy dirty inside classrooms. “Parents are upset, community members are upset,” said Senator Bill Ferguson, (D) Baltimore City. Those are the dire conditions state senator Bill Ferguson, a former city school teacher, found when he went to check on New Era Academy in Cherry Hill last week.

Doing the math, bond debt for California schools may not pencil out
-- NAN AUSTIN, The Modesto Bee

California: July 28, 2015 -- School buildings are made up of more than walls and windows. In any town, they hold the footprint of local history and tall hopes for tomorrow. High schools, particularly, become architectural touchstones. Modesto High outgrew its stately beginnings, but even stretched and pulled over a larger footprint, its main building maintains the face of a more gracious age. The brick-fronted early building of Turlock High School, made obsolete by earthquake-ready building codes and ravaged by fire, still serves the adults of Turlock Unified. To the north in both cities stand more recent additions to educational heritage: Enochs and Gregori high schools in Modesto, Pitman High in Turlock. All three boast a soaring architectural style, their buildings encompassing a massive interior space. The difference between the two eras is striking in style, use of space and – behind the scenes – in financing. The days of easily understood and argued school debt seem as bygone as brick facades. A report released July 21 by the nonprofit California Policy Center called “For the Kids” lays out $200 billion in existing school bond debt. In other words, taxpayers owe $32,074 for every child now in kindergarten through high school across California. A drive for equity is helping push those numbers. Schools in the older, poorer section of town do not look like those in newer, more prosperous developments, and advocates say they convey a sense of lowered expectations that hurts student achievement and prospects. Then there is age itself, the hallmarks of a life hard-lived as hundreds of youngsters crowd in to learn, lunch and play each day. The average age of Modesto City Schools’ campuses is 50 strenuous years. Though the district has pay-as-you-go plans in place to replace elderly roofs, replacing old pipes and outdated wiring does not come cheap.

State auditor calls for education reform in light of Pa. schools bond downgrade
-- Rachel Bunn,

Pennsylvania: July 28, 2015 -- Pennsylvania school districts are among the worst off in the nation, and for Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said it continues to highlight the need for reform in the education system. Moody's Investor Service downgraded eight Pennsylvania school districts to a junk bond rating category in a July 20 report. This means that the bonds would be a higher risk to default and may have difficulty acquiring capital for an inexpensive cost. According to Moody's 20 percent of "speculative grade school districts" are in Pennsylvania. "This is troubling news for school districts and for residents because when bond ratings are downgraded it drives up the costs when schools need to borrow money to repair or upgrade their facilities," DePasquale said in a news release. "Simply increasing funding is not enough. We need to stem the hemorrhaging of school district finances and look for long-term, systemic changes." York City School District is the only district in the area to see its rating downgraded to a "Baa" rating or lower since March.

How much space does a school need? City agrees to tweak its answers
-- Patrick Wall, Chalkbeat New York

New York: July 28, 2015 -- The city has agreed to tweak how it calculates the amount of available space in school buildings, which are often shared by multiple schools, education department officials said Tuesday. It has also agreed to consider bigger adjustments to the city’s school-space tally, known as the Blue Book, like factoring in how many special-needs students a school serves when calculating how much space it requires. The long-awaited changes stem from the recommendations of an advisory group formed last year to review how the city makes those space estimates, which guide decisions about whether buildings have enough room to house multiple schools and where new buildings are needed. “These important recommendations will help us better use space in our schools,” Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement. But the city rejected one of the group’s key proposals: to lower class-size targets for every grade. Doing so would have altered the city’s available-space formula, which could have resulted in more schools being labeled overcrowded and the city appearing to need more school space.

The Struggle To Breathe Life Back Into Empty Schools
-- Staff Writer, NPR

National: July 28, 2015 -- Virginia Savage lives in a part of north St. Louis, Mo., that's filled with vacant buildings, including Marshall Elementary. It has been closed for years now, and vines crawl into the building's smashed-out windows. The playground is littered with empty liquor bottles. Savage went to school at Marshall as a young girl, and now she sees bigger problems beyond all those blemishes: "Drug dealers, drug users, eyesore. That's what I see." In St. Louis, the student enrollment is one-fourth the size it was in the 1960s. That drop has led the district to close 30 or so schools. It's the same story across the country in cities like Atlanta, Detroit and Chicago, where district leaders are facing the big question — what to do with all of those empty schools? Savage volunteers at a neighborhood church that used to be a vacant school, too. So she doesn't just see problems, she also sees potential. "Apartments, room for the homeless, a community center," she says. "There's a lot that can go on with this building." Empty buildings are difficult to secure, they can attract crime, and they fall apart quickly. So St. Louis Public Schools rounded up a group of volunteer architects, contractors and community health experts to pitch developers and lure investors into doing something with these places. And because this all boils down to real estate, the first thing to do was throw a bunch of open houses at schools like Eliot Elementary, another stately historic school. It's more than 100 years old and classic St. Louis with an impressive stature, deep red brick and thick, wrought iron.

School boundary lines could change in city
-- Erica L. Green and Natalie Sherman, The Baltimore Sun

Maryland: July 27, 2015 -- ltimore school officials will review boundary lines of elementary schools for the first time in more than a decade as part of a broader plan to close or renovate dilapidated buildings and reduce class sizes. The prospect of redrawing school zones has raised concerns among real estate agents, parents and political leaders who say changes could complicate efforts to attract and keep residents. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and several organizations have launched campaigns to retain families, as recent surveys have shown that many people leave Baltimore when their children reach school. Decisions about redistricting would be at least two years out, school officials said, and could look different than the traditional neighborhood school zones that are based on population and proximity. Lynette Washington, director of facility planning for the district, said that the last time the district did any significant rezoning was in 2004, when "spot zoning" took place to adjust for a high number of school closures. Washington said the next review would be "comprehensive." "We're looking at it not just from a demographic standpoint," she said. "If you only look at certain areas, it's like a Band-Aid. It won't address issues in a comprehensive way." It will be a hot button issue for highly sought-after schools like Roland Park Elementary/Middle, where class sizes have swelled to more than 30. The most recent state data show the average elementary school class size in Maryland is 21.

Photographers document Montana's disappearing one-room schools
-- Cory Walsh, Missoulian

Montana: July 25, 2015 -- At Salmon Prairie School, just north of Condon in the Swan Valley, Holl Hubbard teaches all three students, who happen to be siblings. At Divide School, teacher Judy Boyle takes her handful of kids to the Big Hole River to do their own scientific research. At Hawks Home School in Carter County, teacher Lynette Wolf schedules her day around the needs of the school's sole student. At Pass Creek School, Dustyn Diggs, a 15-year-old, helps his younger schoolmate, Piper Davis, age 7. "This is a kindergartner learning Christmas carols from an eighth-grade boy. And this is the kind of thing that happens all the time," said Neil Chaput de Saintonge. He's discussing a photo he took for "Chasing Time: Last of the Active One-Room Schools in Montana." He and fellow photographer Keith Graham set out to document interactions like these, the unique relationships that teachers and students develop, which would be unlikely to occur in urban school environments. They visited 25 of the state's 75 one-room schools at that time, taking 18 trips and logging thousands and thousands of miles. Notably, Montana lays claim to a high number of the country's one-room schools. By their estimate, there are fewer than 200 nationwide.

Lafayette’s new school superintendent says a tax proposal to upgrade school buildings could go to voters
-- LANIE LEE COOK, The Advocate

Louisiana: July 24, 2015 -- Lafayette Parish School System facilities are in dire need of expansions and enhancements, with new Superintendent Don Aguillard estimating a bond or tax proposal for those needs could go to voters as early as next spring. With some schools out of space for temporary buildings, several in need of wing expansions and most in need of vital amenities like air-conditioned gyms, Aguillard on Monday said attention to those matters can’t wait any longer. Should the Lafayette Parish School Board pull together a proposal this month, voters could decide on it in the March election, Aguillard told the Acadiana Press Club. Otherwise, the board would have until October to put a measure on the April ballot. “We’re going to be moving quickly to try to put together some packages to present to the board,” Aguillard said. The school district has about $94 million in bonding capacity, Aguillard said. Should it retire its existing debts over the next two years, the district would be able to accrue new debts “at no additional cost to Lafayette citizens,” he added.

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