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

Milwaukee makes it hard to buy its many empty school buildings
-- Paul Brennan, Wisconsin Reporter

Wisconsin: January 26, 2015 -- MILWAUKEE, Wis. — The words “bizarre” and “hilariously tragic” aren’t normally associated with real estate transactions. But there’s very little normal about the problems private schools and charter schools face when they try to buy one of Milwaukee Public Schools vacant school buildings. “The whole thing was very, very bizarre,” Henry Tyson said, reflecting on his experience dealing with city and MPS officials. Tyson, superintendent of St. Marcus Lutheran School, spent more than a year trying to buy one of the city’s vacant school building. In 2013, St. Marcus, a highly regarded school that accepts voucher students through the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, needed to add a second campus. Its classrooms, from the K3 program serving 3 year olds through those for its oldest students in eighth grade, were full. The school had a waiting list of more than 300 students whose parents were eager for them to attend. There were plenty of vacant MPS school buildings available. There still are, as a new report from the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty documents. According to “Kids in Crisis, Cobwebs in the Classrooms,” there are 17 vacant public school buildings in Milwaukee and an estimated 27 more schools using less than 60 percent of their facilities. On average, those vacant buildings have been empty for seven years.

Two middle schools in Winston-Salem sit on contaminated ground
-- Winston-Salem Journal Staff, Fox 8

North Carolina: January 25, 2015 -- WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — As students walk up to Hanes and Lowrance middle schools in northern Winston-Salem, a loud buzzing noise follows them to the front door of the building. It’s the sound of a very strong pump, part of a $665,000 project financed by a manufacturer across the street to clean up a large plume of underground toxic waste, according to the Winston-Salem Journal. The plume contains at least one chemical known to cause cancer and another linked to it. About 30 feet to 90 feet below the surface, the plume stretches roughly a third of a mile. It stretches from the source, a decades-old chemical dump, and across the street under the joint school building and its grounds. State environment regulators have flagged the whole underground plume as one of the worst hazardous waste sites in North Carolina. Of the 531 hazardous waste sites on a priority list kept by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, it is ranked 88, in the top 20 percent. Over the past few years, concentrations of one contaminant under a portion of the school campus have grown stronger. That spot, where the underground contamination is the worst, is where Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools plans to build a new $15.4 million school to replace the aging Lowrance, the only dedicated middle school for special-needs students.

Nostalgia versus educational needs - Miami Public Schools asking voters to fund $22.7 million bond
-- Melinda Stott,

Florida: January 25, 2015 -- MIAMI -- Voters are being asked to support one of the biggest changes in history to the Miami Public School system. Miami voters in the Miami Public School District are being asked to vote for a bond proposal on March 3 for $22.7 million in improvements to the high school and middle school and for a new lower elementary building to be constructed. The changes are being requested to offer greater educational services, and more secure and safer buildings with safe rooms for the entire student and staff population at each school and enclosed secure walkways and entries. “Safety of our students is always our main concern,”Robinson said. “We want to do everything we can to make that possible.” The biggest change to the district being proposed is the unification of all elementary students from five traditional “neighborhood schools” into two buildings separating students into lower and upper elementary facilities. With a mill increase to property taxes of 22.71 percent requested for every $100 the annual increase would be a raise of $22.71 or a $1.89 monthly increase for property owners in the MPS voting district.

Fayette school board wants all buildings inspected
-- Ryan Quinn,

West Virginia: January 25, 2015 -- The Fayette County Board of Education has requested inspections of all school buildings in the district, following the sudden Jan. 12 closure of a Collins Middle School building that forced roughly 400 students to miss almost a week of school. Board member Leon Ivey said all five members presented a letter at a meeting Friday requesting that the state Department of Education approve comprehensive structural inspections, plus air quality inspections. The move follows a structural inspection of the Collins Middle seventh- and eighth-grade building earlier this month that led state schools Superintendent Michael Martirano to order the building shuttered. After Collins’ closure, Ivey said he had been forwarding Fayette residents’ numerous requests for more inspections to the department and the state school board, which took over the district about five years ago. He said the state had asked for a show of the Fayette board’s support for the action. “I’ve been getting a lot of phone calls, a lot of emails, asking ‘Please, make sure our children are safe,’” he said. The Collins seventh graders returned to classes Tuesday at Fayetteville High School and the eighth graders returned at Oak Hill High School. The district is still seeking a permanent home for them. County Superintendent Serena Starcher said the district wants to put a property tax increase before voters in May or June to fund building a new Collins, and possibly other projects such as portable trailer classrooms that could be built on the Collins campus as a home for students until the new building is constructed — a process that’ll likely take several years. Starcher estimated it will cost $27 million to build a new school. The district is currently seeking a bond adviser to help suggest the right amount of money to request from voters. The superintendent told state school board members earlier this month that Fayette voters haven’t passed a bond since 1973, making Fayette one of 14 counties that haven’t passed a bond since then.

Closing all those schools not a disaster after all
-- Sun Times Editorial Board, Chicago Sun Times

Illinois: January 25, 2015 -- When City Hall in late 2012 proposed a wave of mass school closings, all in just one year, our reaction could be summed up in two words: No way. EDITORIAL We carried that view into 2013, when CPS voted to 49 elementary schools, even as the mayor and the schools CEO insisted they could pull off the closings in way that wouldn’t hurt the nearly 12,000 affected children and would even make them academically better off. We write today to offer credit where credit is due. Some 93 percent of the students ended up at schools that were at least marginally higher performing than the under-enrolled shuttered schools they left, according to a University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research study released last week. It is too early to tell if individual students actually are better off — and the odds aren’t great. Previous U. of C. research on prior closings found that students had better academic outcomes only if they moved to “substantially” higher-performing schools. After the 2013 closures, just 21 percent of students went to CPS’ top-rated schools.