Thursday, April 19, 2001



Court adviser says state
will likely miss deadline
for Felix compliance

By Rosemarie Bernardo
and Crystal Kua

It's unlikely that the Department of Education will meet the end-of-the year compliance deadline in the Felix consent decree, a court monitor says.

Ivor Groves also said he is recommending the state be fined if benchmarks aren't met and if funding pending before state lawmakers is not approved for special-needs students requiring mental health and educational services.

"If they don't live up to those obligations, then the court will have to take action. Fines is one option," Groves said. "Based on the fact that the state seems unwilling to get this in compliance ... it raises serious questions about the sustainability."

State Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu said the state will be "readying a motion for a modest extension" of the Dec. 31 deadline.

LeMahieu said that while he agrees with the premise of the court monitor's report, he needs clarification on the recommendations. "I don't understand what he's recommending," LeMahieu said.

A status conference is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday at federal court to discuss the state Legislature's proposed biennium budget for fiscal year 2002-2003.

The conference is to determine whether a formal hearing is necessary to resolve funding deficiencies and to permit a federal judge to determine what remedies are needed to achieve compliance.

The decree came after a 1993 federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of Jennifer Felix. It claimed the state violated federal law by failing to provide adequate services to special-needs students.

Last year, U.S. District Judge David Ezra found the state in contempt for not complying with the decree by June 30. The state now has until the end of this year to be in full compliance.

Groves recommended that the court order the state to fund the obligation if the state does not meet the Dec. 31 deadline.

"The court will need to ensure that there are special requirements maintained once compliance is achieved," Groves said.

The Department of Education says it needs an additional $31,623,699 to achieve compliance in fiscal year 2002. The Department of Health says it needs $10 million to $15 million in the same fiscal year. An emergency appropriation for current fiscal year requirements is pending approval by House and Senate conferees.

Because of the statewide teachers strike and other factors, the Department of Education probably will need until June 2002 to reach substantial compliance.

>> HSTA Web site
>> UHPA Web site
>> State Web site
>> Governor's strike Web site
>> DOE Web site

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