Santa Barbara News-Press, 4/20/05

Goleta schools chief says don't ditch federal law
Dropping No Child Left Behind would mean loss of funding


A month after the Goleta Union school board mulled becoming the state's first district to ignore the federal No Child Left Behind law, the district's superintendent is recommending otherwise.

But at least one school board member said her recommendation is premature.

In a packet for tonight's Goleta school board meeting, Superintendent Ida Rickborn suggests the district stay in the program, saying the $450,000 the district would lose in federal Title I money for low-income students is too valuable, even though the district is unusually well-off financially.

President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002.

In essence, it aims to get all lower-achieving students over the same ascending hurdle, and it sanctions entire schools when certain subgroups within them -- such as students with disabilities or the poor -- fail to do so.

Some Goleta officials criticize the law as overly punitive and demoralizing. For instance, sanctioned schools such as Isla Vista School are forced to tell parents they can move their children to schools with higher test scores.

The penalties steepen with each successive year, possibly to the point of replacing a school's entire staff.

But Ms. Rickborn, who is retiring after this school year, predicts that as more schools face sanctions throughout the state and nation, the federal government will loosen the punitive aspects of the legislation.

"I'm hoping they will," said Ms. Rickborn, who said she thinks the law's requirement that all children reach proficiency by 2014 is unrealistic and will lead to an overwhelming number of sanctioned schools.

The five-member board of trustees appears split on the matter, though most trustees say their opinions are subject to change as more becomes known. Trustee Dean Nevins, who instigated the discussion, said Ms. Rickborn's recommendation is premature.

"What we haven't done is ask teachers, 'If we do this, will it help?' Until we do that, I'm not ready to make any kind of decision," said Mr. Nevins, who said he is not yet an advocate of opting out.

"We're trying to figure out the best way to educate the kids. If opting out is a good approach educationally, then I'm hoping the board will eventually decide to do it."

Trustee Susan Epstein has not written off the idea.

"When we look at likely scenarios for the next few years, we may decide that opting out of the NCLB law is our best choice for the district's fiscal health as well as for educating all our students," she wrote in an e-mail to the News-Press.

But two trustees, Jane Rudolph and school board President Manor Buck, are leaning toward adhering to Ms. Rickborn's recommendation.

"We need to help those children at risk," Mr. Buck said. "To try and come up with $450,000 out of the budget without that money I think is an impossible task."

District officials do not know of any other districts in the state that have pulled out altogether.

But at least one district in the San Diego area has opted out in part.

The K-8 Escondido Union School District decided to shift its federal Title I dollars away from two of its five middle schools and into its elementary schools. As a result, those two middle schools are exempt from sanctions, said Superintendent Michael Caston, the former leader of the K-12 Santa Barbara school system.

"We receive about $8 million in Title I money, so we're not about to walk away from that," Mr. Caston said.

The Utah Legislature on Tuesday passed a measure giving state education standards priority over the No Child Left Behind Act.

The bill is seen by many as the strongest objection to the federal law among 15 states considering anti-No Child Left Behind legislation this year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. E-mail Rob Kuznia at


The Goleta school board will discuss opting out of the requirements mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act at its meeting that begins at 7:30 tonight, at 401 N. Fairview Ave., Goleta.

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