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

Eureka City Schools takes divergent paths on proposed lease-leaseback projects
-- THADEUS GREENSON, North Coast Journal

California: November 26, 2015 -- Eureka City Schools is backing away from at least one of its controversial no-bid construction contracts. Back in September, the district decided to forgo the no-bid construction contract it had promised DCI Builders to renovate the Alice Birney Elementary School site, opting to put the process out to bid instead. But less than a month later, the district opted to stay the course at Lincoln Elementary School, keeping Dinsmore Construction under a no-bid contract to complete the third phase of the modernization and renovation project. District officials were unavailable to explain the decisions before the Journal's deadline. Superintendent Fred Van Vleck asked the Journal to submit questions via email last week, then responded to say he was out of town and wouldn't be able to answer the questions until after the district's Thanksgiving break. No-bid school construction projects in Eureka and throughout the state were thrust into the spotlight in June, when an appellate court found reason to believe the Fresno Unified School District may have violated state law in a $36.7 million project to build a new middle school. Specifically, the court found that Fresno Unified may have illegally skirted the competitive bid process by abusing a decades-old law that aimed to make it easier for cash-strapped school districts to build new facilities. In 1957, the California Legislature recognized that school districts had few funding options at their disposal. State law prohibited them — in addition to counties and cities — from carrying any debt that exceeded the amount of a single year's revenue, meaning districts couldn't get private loans to build new facilities, unless they first got the approval of 66 percent of district voters. Looking to help districts in areas where voters weren't keen on passing bonds or allowing them to carry large debts, the Legislature came up with what's now known as the lease-leaseback arrangement.

How Washington created some of the worst schools in America

National: November 25, 2015 -- t took 50 years for the federal government to admit officially that the education it had promised to provide Indian children was so bad it qualified as abuse. “Grossly inadequate,” wrote the authors of a scathing 1928 report. Forty years later, the feds were taking themselves to task again, in a report by Sen. Edward Kennedy that called the state of Indian education a “national tragedy.” Flash forward 46 more years. The network of schools for Native American children run by an obscure agency of the Interior Department remains arguably the worst school system in the United States, a disgrace the government has known about for eight decades and never successfully reformed. Earlier this fall, POLITICO asked President Barack Obama’s secretary of education, Arne Duncan, about what is perhaps the federal government’s longest-running problem: “It's just the epitome of broken,” he said. “Just utterly bankrupt.” The epitome of broken looks like Crystal Boarding School. Tucked into the desert hills on a Navajo reservation 150 miles east of the Grand Canyon, Crystal has cracks running several feet down the walls, leaky pipes in the floors and asbestos in the basement. Students come from extremely troubled backgrounds, but there is no full-time counselor. Last year, a new reading coach took one look at the rundown cinder block housing and left the next day. Science and social studies have been cut to put more attention on the abysmal reading and math scores, but even so, in 2013 only 5 percent of students were considered to have grade-level math skills. “I don't even know what to say,” said Duncan. “It's just not right.”

Sunset Park Parents Frustrated by Overcrowding Are Invited to Join the Search for School Sites
-- Beth Fertig, WNYC 93.9

New York: November 25, 2015 -- Parents hoping the city would provide them with answers to Sunset Park's overcrowding problems were disappointed after Tuesday night's forum with Chancellor Carmen Farińa and other Department of Education officials. More than 200 people attended the meeting of Community Education Council 15, which includes a big chunk of Sunset Park. Henry Carrier, the council's co-vice president, disputed the long-standing claim that the city has had trouble finding affordable sites for new schools. "I think the people here are reasonable, we understand you can't to this overnight, but this has been years now," he said, referring to the Department of Education's capital plan. It includes five schools for the district, two of which are supposed to be in Sunset Park. Carrier gave a PowerPoint presentation showing new housing developments and hotels throughout the neighborhood, and asked why those can go up but not schools. "I gotta tell you, the community is starting to say, 'Are we really being told the truth here?'" Many parents and community leaders want the city to convert a hotel on 39th Street into a school, now that it's been closed over allegations of prostitution and human trafficking. They claim other hotels have also been bad neighbors. One activist held a large sign that said "Schools, not brothels." Others held signs in Chinese and Spanish calling for solutions to overcrowding. Chancellor Carmen Farińa said the city would look into the 39th Street hotel. She also said she would encourage apartment building developers to set aside space for unzoned pre-k and kindergarten classes, which would help the local schools.

Crumbling Schools Add Health Problems to Classroom Stress
-- Joseph Williams, takepart

National: November 24, 2015 -- Among teachers, it’s known as the 2:30 headache, describing the pain that sets in after hours of breathing polluted air in an old school building or a temporary classroom. For Rachel Gutter—and educators and schoolchildren nationwide—it isn’t theoretical. “My mom suffered permanent respiratory damage by working in a sick school,” says Gutter, the U.S. Green Building Council’s vice president for knowledge. A school administrator in metropolitan Washington, D.C., her mother had asthma and mold allergies, which were constantly irritated by the bad air. Gutter says one visit to a portable classroom triggered a particularly severe attack. According to the survey, eight out of 10 respondents support “green” schools—construction and renovation concepts that create airy, spacious, sunshine-filled environments—which enhance learning while saving energy and protecting the planet. “Where our children learn matters,” says Gutter, who unveiled the findings at a green-building conference in Washington late last week. Education-conscious parents, she said, “will talk to you about the who and the what—the teachers and the curriculum—but they won’t talk to you about the where,” which can be just as critical. “I’ve been in schools that feel like jails,” with high security, poor ventilation, and little natural light, Gutter explains. “I come from three generations of educators. I believe every child is entitled to a healthy, safe place to go to school.”

Harford officials begin to discuss the unthinkable -- school closings
-- David Anderson, Baltimore Sun

Maryland: November 24, 2015 -- As public school enrollment slips, and the local economy continues to sputter, Harford County government and school officials are beginning to discuss the unthinkable: closing underutilized school buildings. One of the wealthiest counties in the state and the nation, Harford has the financial wherewithal to maintain its existing slate of 54 schools, despite the declining enrollment in recent years. If the housing market continues to lag, or the economy takes another dive, however, key local decision-makers could be forced to consider closing some schools and merging student populations, according to members of the county's Adequate Public Facilities Advisory Board. "We can manage some of the financial obligations responsible for keeping a school [open], because of the social, politically correct considerations that we need to think about," the board's chairman, County Council President Richard Slutzky, said during the board's semi-annual meeting in Bel Air Thursday evening. The APF advisory board, composed of representatives of the Harford County Council, the school system and the school board, plus the county planning and treasury departments, meets twice a year to review school capacity figures, enrollment projections and the rate of home building.