Cities News Roundup
Apparently taking a cue from President Reagan's crackdown on air-traffic controllers, school administrators in two districts have broken strikes by threatening to fire teachers.
In North Providence, R.I., 240 teachers refused to show up for work on Sept. 8 because they did not accept the school committee's offer for a new contract. On Sept. 13, they again rejected the school board's offer for a 7.5-percent pay raise and binding arbitration on other issues. Following the deadlock, Frank Iafrate, chairman of the school committee, repeated an earlier vow to dismiss any teacher who failed to report for work on Sept. 14.
Last Monday morning, 170 teachers met privately, voted to accept the committee's offer, and returned to work.
In the tiny Pontiac District 105 in Fairview Heights, Ill., 35 teachers returned two weeks ago to the classrooms after being threatened with firing.
Elsewhere by last week, teachers had walked out of districts in seven states, shutting down school for more than 300,000 students.
In the two big-city districts of Philadelphia and Boston, the labor situation remained grim. Both districts have asked their city and state governments for funds so that the school systems can honor contracts and rescind layoffs, but no progress has been made in either case.
The Philadelphia city council began hearings on a variety of plans to provide more money to the school system. But Mayor William Green's proposal to raise property taxes and to extract major concessions from the union has yet to win strong support. The 22,000-member Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has been on strike for nearly three weeks.
In Boston, where teachers have voted to walk out today if their demands are not met, a spokesman for the Boston Teachers Union said last week, "There hasn't been any progress towards a reconciliation or finding additional funds." School Superintendent Robert R. Spillane has threatened to fire any teachers who strike.
As if closing schools weren't painful enough, the Minneapolis school board now is being asked to pay $320,000 in county property taxes on unused school sites.
The Hennepin County tax assessor, Donald Monk, claims that the board's placement of "For Sale" signs on the nine properties is tantamount to using the land for other than educational purposes. Thus, he says, the land is subject to taxation. The tax bill runs to the closing date of each site--in some cases, as far back as 1975.
The school district already has challenged the bill in the Minnesota State Tax Court, charging that such assessments on unused public property are without precedent. If the land were leased to profit-making businesses, school officials say, the county would have the right to tax it. The system has been trying to sell the land in the face of an unfavorable real-estate market.
"It is taking money out of one pocket and putting it into another," complained Peter Popovich, lawyer for the Minnesota School Boards Association. The best way to free school districts from such tax threats might be new legislation rather than litigation, he said.
Mr. Popovich's opinion of the tax assessment: "It's nuts."
A new racial problem has surfaced in at least three of the nation's school districts: tension between black and white teachers over layoffs.
Under desegregation policies adopted by or ordered upon some local school boards, black teachers receive more job protection during periods of financial crisis than do whites. The basic reason for these policies, say supporters, is the need to preserve or improve the racial balance of the teaching staff. White teachers, however, resent a quota system that threatens their jobs.
In Boston, black teachers are threatening to cross picket lines during a strike threatened for today if the Boston Teachers Union doesn't drop its appeal of a federal court order requiring that any layoffs meet already mandated quotas for black teachers.
Two weeks ago, the Milwaukee school board was told by a labor mediator that it must consider racial balance in the school system in laying off teachers. The decision settled a dispute on layoffs between the board, which favored the use of racial criteria in layoffs, and the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association, which opposed such quotas.
And this month in Lansing, Mich., teachers reluctantly supported a new three-year contract that included affirmative-action layoff policies. The union had sought to keep the clause out of the contract, although the district has used racial criteria in layoffs for the past eight years.
A federal judge has accepted the Brownsville, Tex., school board's offer to pay private-school tuition for a handicapped boy who spent most of his classroom hours last year inside an air-conditioned plastic box.
Tony Martinez, school board attorney, said the court ruled that the board's offer complies with an earlier order that Raul Espino, Jr., be provided with air-conditioning in a non-segregated environment. The boy's parents, once adamant about forcing the public school system to provide an air-conditioned classroom, have decided not to appeal the court's latest ruling, according to the family's lawyer.
The Espino boy spent 75 percent of his classroom time inside an air-condition plastic box because of an automobile accident that left him unable to regulate his body temperature.
His parents sued and won under the federal Education for All Handicapped Children Act, which requires that students be schooled in the least-restrictive setting possible. But the school board balked at providing air-conditioning for the public school because of the cost.
Mr. Martinez said the Windsor-Sandcastle School has agreed to enroll the Espino boy, and the school board has agreed to pay for all of the necessary support services.