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Tue, Oct. 15

Senate action will halt 'leap' of bad principals

PHOENIX – The Senate Education Committee, which Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, chairs, has approved a strike-everything amendment that would, among other things, eliminate the "safe harbor" for problem school principals from the Local Education Accountability Program (LEAP).

LEAP lets principals withdraw their schools from districts and operate them independently, with their own curriculum and policies, at district expense.

As part of Prop. 301's parent bill, Senate Bill 1007, LEAP didn't attract much attention before the election. However, voters who approved 301 in November to increase teacher salaries also approved LEAP.

Bennett is a main sponsor of the amendment to SB 1484, which makes numerous changes.

"We're trying to address concerns that exist about the original LEAP proposal," he said before five of the eight committee members voted for the amendment last Thursday. "We want to tie down the budget relationship between the district and the school and do some other things to make it more practical."

He noted that the LEAP concept is based on empowering principals and teachers, who are closest to students, to have more say over what happens at the school and how that school spends money.

"Most of the real success stories, as far as schools in inner cities being turned around, occur because a principal takes or is given power to make decisions at that school site," he said. "This proposal is based on that happening on a voluntary basis."

Education Committee members added language to the measure. Kimberly J. Yee, legislative research analyst, completed the revised version Monday.

The current amendment:

• Describes LEAP as voluntary and removes references to LEAP as a phase-in program.

• Bars principals from participating in LEAP if they are on probation for disciplinary reasons or are under a job performance improvement plan. Also, it requires that a LEAP principal remain a district employee.

• Clarifies that if a school district receives applications, it must select a LEAP school. It also allows, rather than requires, a district to select additional schools as necessary to obtain 10 percent of the number of district schools participating in LEAP.

• Specifies that a LEAP school and its assets remain the school district's property.

• States that a teacher who works at a LEAP school is entitled to the same due process procedures as other teachers.

• Requires that the district's governing board hold a public hearing at the proposed LEAP school site within 30 days of receipt of the application.

• Contains other technical, conforming and clarifying changes.

The Rules Committee, both houses and the governor still must approve this amendment for it to become law.

Kelton Aker, principal of Taylor Hicks Elementary School in Prescott, chairs a 21-member committee establishing local guidelines for teacher performance pay, another aspect of Prop. 301.

Aker said he was aware of LEAP provisions but isn't interested in operating an independent school and doesn't know any principal who is.

"I'm too busy running the one I have," he said.

Contact Louise Koniarski at lkoniarskiprescottaz.com

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