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'Unclear' when state oversight of New London schools will cease

New London — The Board of Education has sufficiently addressed its requirements to be released from direct state oversight, Superintendent Manuel J. Rivera told the board Thursday night, but it is "unclear at this point" when the district will be released.

"It is clear that we're on the cusp of meeting the technical requirements," Rivera said before the board voted Thursday to approve a new superintendent evaluation process, which was one of the requirements. "If we have completed all of the technical requirements, that needs to be shared with the state Board of Education at a July meeting."

The state Board of Education is scheduled to meet in Hartford on July 1.

In February, state-appointed Special Master Steven J. Adamowski told the Board of Education he would recommend that the state cease its direct oversight by July 1 if the board:

1. Agree with new Superintendent Manuel J. Rivera on a superintendent evaluation process that is based on student achievement and “the development of high-performing magnet schools.”

2. Arrange for an independent auditor to conduct a separate annual audit of district expenditures beginning with the current fiscal year.

3. Complete all memorandums of understanding which are required by city ordinances or state legislation, including the agreements to merge the city and district finance departments, to define responsibilities for the maintenance of school buildings and outline the partnership between the district and the Garde Arts Center for an arts magnet high school.

4. Reach an agreement with the city about how the annual state grant the city receives for transporting out-of-district magnet school students is to be budgeted and spent.

5. Begin a comprehensive review of its entire policy manual and revise district policies to comply with existing state law to “reflect principles of best practices as contained in the Reform Governance in Action training received by the board.”

"Ultimately," Rivera said, "Mr. Adamowski has to sit with the new commissioner (of education), and they will decide if we're ready to go to the state Board of Education."

Adamowski said he will recommend that the district “should be closely monitored” by the state Board of Education even after being released from full state involvement and that the state continue to provide New London with $1.1 million for each of the next three fiscal years to assist in meeting the goals established in the district’s strategic operating plan.

For three years, the state has had a direct role in guiding the school system out of dire financial straits and through the early stages of becoming the state’s first all-magnet school district.

In 2007, the state began working with the school system on a District Improvement Plan, and in 2011 the state board intervened by assigning former Groton Superintendent James Mitchell to monitor school board meetings, which had been marred by dysfunction, politicking and arguments over items such as whether hot dogs at a school field day were served on bread or rolls.

In May 2012 a state audit deemed the Board of Education’s leadership and governance “incoherent” and suggested that only “powerful, transformational and systemic interventions” could turn the system around.

The next month, the state appointed Adamowski to serve as special master, and the city began moving full speed ahead to transform itself into an all-magnet system.

c.young@theday.com

Twitter: @ColinAYoung

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