SOUTH BEND — South Bend school administrators met with state education leaders Wednesday, following the release of a report last week that lists three South Bend high schools at risk of a state takeover. The report comes from a British consulting group called Cambridge Education, hired by Indiana's Department of Education last fall to assess schools on academic probation across the state. In a copy of the report obtained by The South Bend Tribune, Washington and Riley High Schools and Bendix Alternative School are listed along with 20 other Indiana schools with an overall rating of "poor." All of those schools were placed on academic probation by IDOE after failing to improve ISTEP+ scores for the past four years. 57 percent of Riley students, 43 percent of Washington students, and just 14 percent of Bendix students passed both the math and English sections of the ISTEP test, according to the most recent data available from the IDOE. The test is administered to 10th graders each spring. Schools that remain on academic probation for six years can be placed under state control under Indiana's Public Law 221, passed by state lawmakers in 1999, two years before the federal No Child Left Behind Act took effect. That state intervention can include the replacement of administrators and teachers. The school corporation has until May 2011 to submit a comprehensive plan to improve academic performance in order to avoid a state takeover. South Bend administrators--including Superintendent James Kapsa--met with representatives from IDOE Wednesday in Indianapolis to find out more about what must be contained inside that improvement plan. WSBT's calls to administrators and school corporation staff in Indianapolis were not returned Wednesday. Early last fall, IDOE hired British based consulting firm Cambridge Education LLC to evaluate all 23 schools on the four-year academic probation list, and develop a series of recommendations on improvement. The documents generated for each school include a wide variety of categories, from "safety and discipline" to "personalized instruction;" outlining what some school board members say is a clear referendum on a lack of progress. "My initial reaction was that the report was worse than what I thought it was going to be," said South Bend school board member Roger Parent. "But, I think we've reached a point where accountability has reached the top, and we have to take some drastic action." "We've tweaked this, done that, added this new program here or there, and that's not working. Because we've been flat-lined on test scores for a long time," Parent continued. Each report raises several major "problem areas," Parent said. They include: 1) Ineffective record keeping and use of academic data "The software system we have is obsolete. It does not allow easy scheduling for students, and there's all kinds of errors that come up. We have to replace it, and we've been talking about replacing it for a year. It's just not moving forward. Meantime, the data we do have is not being used very well," he said. 2) A "top heavy" administration "It's bureaucracy, and I agree with that assessment entirely. We have too many people working downtown. We have a bureaucracy set in its ways, and it needs to be changed," Parent said. 3) Too much blame for academic failure put on "socioeconomic" factors "You blame the students, the parents, the NEA, the teachers. It's time to start putting accountability where it belongs, which is the school board, the superintendent and his/her staff. We're not doing an adequate job. The school boards haven't done an adequate job, and the administrations haven't done an adequate job either. If they had, we'd be in a different place," Parent said. 4) Overly restrictive contracts with teachers "We have one of the most restrictive contracts probably anywhere in the country, and this has to be addressed," Parent said. "I'm a union person. I'm not out to tear down unions. But, we have to have a much better contract then we have now." Parent called the overall assessment of the three schools "hard to swallow," but also "the truth." "Maybe the report is slanted a bit. I don't know. But, even if you discount half of it, it's still a damning report. I agree with a lot of the report, and frankly, I think it was needed," Parent said. "We don't just have three schools in trouble. We have 12 or 13 schools in trouble, which means we have a systemic failure. And, if we have a systemic failure, we have to look at the people who run the system and created the system. And that's us," Parent continued. But, other board members aren't so sure. "I thought they were unfair," said South Bend School Board Vice President Bill Sniadecki, speaking about the members of the Cambridge team who generated the report by speaking with parents, students, teachers and administrators last fall. "They were here two days. The top people running the program--I felt they had their minds made up before they walked in the door. The Cambridge group never looked at what we've been doing the last two years, and we've done a lot even since they've been here. I think it's slanted, plain and simple," Sniadecki said. Still, Sniadecki agreed what he called a "bloated" administration should be pared down, and he believes data systems are outdated. "Since [former superintendent Dr. Virginia] Calvin left, I think the administration has tripled upstairs. We're cutting left and right, and I think--let's look from the top down. And the data--those are their answers: improve your data. But, they're taking away money. We can't do that," Sniadecki said. As for the report's condemnation of teacher contracts? "That's not the problem," Sniadecki said. "Teachers are the first ones to be blamed because they're in the classroom. But, they're being directed on curriculum and everything else they're doing by these people upstairs." National Educators Association-South Bend union leaders declined to comment for this story, saying they needed more time to digest the information inside the Cambridge reports. But, earlier this week, as parents, students and teachers lined up to support administrators at risk of replacement under the Cambridge recommendations, union leaders said the report doesn't address the root cause of the problems. "Our schools are not failing," said NEA-SB Uniserv Director Heidi Miller. "Taking out administrators is not going to solve the problem. The problems are underlying social issues. That's why all 23 schools on the list are urban, high poverty schools." "They need smaller class sizes and more social programs. They need to address those needs that aren't being met in a high poverty situation where there's an unstable situation at home a lot of the time," Miller continued. "If there's issues, we need to talk about them. But, we have a legal, binding document, and we need to respect that," agreed NEA-SB President Jason Zook. "Those schools need help. And the help they need is for the socioeconomic issues to be addressed." But, the Cambridge report suggests other methods of improvement on a list of 28 recommendations, adopted by the IDOE. Of those 28, only eight are listed as "may do." The remaining 20 are listed as "must do," including the replacement of building principals deemed "performing below expectations." All three building principals are rated "unacceptable" or "poor" in each of three categories within the Cambridge report, though it remained unclear following Wednesday's meeting in Indianapolis whether those 20 items were negotiable, or mandatory. Even so, Parent said he didn't want to wait long to find out. "They're talking major changes if we don't make major changes," he said. "So, we'd better step up to the plate and make the changes before they do." Read Thursday's edition of the South Bend Tribune for much more on the Cambridge report. South Bend Tribune Staff Writers Joseph Dits and Kevin Allen contributed to this report.