District News Briefs
A political firestorm is raging in Galveston, Tex., over the whereabouts of $2.5 million the school district returned to the city under an urban reinvestment scheme.
Since 1984, city officials have designated 10 sites as "reinvestment zones." In the zones, the property-tax rate is frozen in the schools' funding formula, thus placing a cap on school income. Revenues coming from higher tax rates paid by new businesses moving into the area are used to pay for redevelopment activities.
But auditors hired by school officials as part of a 1988 settlement over the city's attempt to extend the tax status of some of the zones said they have been unable to account for $2.5 million in payments from the zone accounts to the city's general fund.
The controversy became public when a confidential letter a school-board lawyer wrote the city council was obtained and published by the Houston Chronicle.
Since then, board lawyers who said they were looking for answers about how the missing money was spent have instead been put on the defensive. Some city officials now are claiming that school officials are out to discredit them.
"What we are looking for is the additional documentation we need to finish the audit," said Sherrill Tompkins, a board lawyer. She added that school officials also want closer scrutiny of profits from the reinvestment zones; about half of the tax revenue the zones generate would ordinarily go to the local school budget, officials said.
"If they could go in with these reinvestment zones and keep them going forever," Ms. Tompkins said, "we're talking about millions in school tax dollars."
A coalition of about two dozen citizens has filed suit in federal court charging that the at-large election process for the Gurdon, Ark., school board discriminates against black candidates.
The suit seeks to replace the current system with single-member districts, according to John W. Walker, the plaintiffs' lawyer.
James Galloway, the district superintendent, said the electorate is approximately 35 percent black. Two black candidates, including an incumbent board member, lost in September's at-large elections.
The five-member board began plans to adopt a single-member-district system last summer, he said, but decided to wait until a demographer is available early next year, he said.
The board recognizes the problem, he said, adding that "we do not disagree with what they've asked for" in the suit.
In response, he said, the school board received county-board approval to appoint two additional board members. But, as of mid-November, no one had applied for the unpaid jobs.
Dozens of West Virginia parents concerned about the safety of school buses on a narrow, winding mountain road have stopped buses and kept their children out of school to call attention to the danger.
"We don't want to see our kids dead out there," said Belinda Gray, the parent of two seniors at Baileysville High School in Brenton who, along with dozens of other students, travel over the road daily. She said the coming winter weather and a bus accident last year prompted the parents' action, which has been formally commended by the local school board.
The picketing by about 100 parents on West Virginia Route 97 slackened after road crews arrived and told parents that a steel guard rail would be placed on the one-mile stretch where the pavement stopsinches from a 400-foot drop, Ms. Gray said.
But, she said, the protests resumed when parents discovered the guard rail would be made of wood. "We just feel it would not hold those buses," she added.
Ms. Gray said she planned to keep her children out of school during the short Thanksgiving week. "We'll decide from there," she said.
The Philadelphia public-school system has enacted a new districtwide grading system that broadens the margins of passing for students in grades 1 through 12.
Under the old standards, students with scores of 75 to 79 earned a C, and those scoring 70 to 74 earned a D. Students with scores of 65 to 69 earned an E.
Under the new policy, students with scores of 70 to 79 will receive a C. The lower end of the D range drops to 65, and the E grade is eliminated.
The changes, which will be reflected on report cards this month, were prompted by a districtwide teacher survey that suggested the change, according to Harold Kessler, director of the office of curriculum support for the Philadelphia school district.
"The new guidelines put us on par with surrounding suburban school districts," Mr. Kessler said.
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers opposes the guidelines, saying that the changes were made without teacher involvement or planning.
"Teacher judgment was not considered," said Ted Kirsch, the union's president. The decision "came down out of the blue," he added.
The union also objects to "inconsistencies" in the guidelines, and is urging its members to send comments and reactions to the administration.
Report cards that went home with Baltimore public-school students this month included inserts designed to prevent dissatisfied parents from physically abusing their children.
City officials developed the insert after noting a rise in reported cases of child abuse after report cards come out. The insert recommends that dissatisfied parents talk to their child's teacher, seek tutoring for their child, and supervise homework assignments daily. It also lists telephone numbers for tutoring services as well as hot lines for abusive parents.
About two dozen other school districts concerned about "report-card reflex" have gotten in touch with the city to ask for infor6mation about the insert, according to Sara Mandell, a special assistant in the mayor's office for children and youth.
The Southwestern Bell Telephone Company last month photocopied 140,000 pages of math, science, and Spanish textbooks for the Dallas Independent School District to remedy what has become an annual textbook shortfall.
"Dallas had a temporary problem that could be bridged with a little help, so we stepped forward and said we could do it," said Jim Pattillo, a Southwestern Bell spokesman. "It was just good citizenship."
The district received the missing books shortly after getting the photocopies, C.L. Delzer, a district textbook specialist, said.
Since September, the district has spent $347,000 more than it was allotted by the state to buy books, officials said, noting that $600,000 more was spent last spring to avoid just the kind of shortage the district faced last month.
Slow delivery of new books and unreported student losses of old ones are among the explanations officials have offered for their textbook woes. A supervisor in the textbook warehouse was fired earlier this school year but has appealed the termination.
More than 500 students of a new suburban Atlanta high school stayed home Nov. 8 following episodes of racial strife at the school.
A total of 518 students stayed out for a day after racially motivated fights broke out between dozens of black and white students at Creekside High School, according to Ralph Lynch, principal of the Fulton County school. Another 300 skipped school the following day, he added.
The 1,235-student school is about evenly divided between black and white students.
During the height of tensions at the school, six police officers patrolled the campus, according to Louis Graham, assistant chief of the Fulton County Police Department. Six students were arrested for various infractions, Mr. Lynch said.
In the wake of the incidents, a series of meetings for parents were held, and Mr. Lynch reactivated a student committee that had chosen the school's colors and mascot to give talks about racism. Mr. Lynch also said he planned to form a new parents' committee to address the problems.
City officials in Atlanta have given final approval to a law designed to keep children under age 17 off the streets late at night.
The new curfew, drafted by the city council and signed into law by Mayor Maynard Jackson, is designed to crack down on youth violence, crime, and drug abuse.
Under the law, children under age 17 may not be out in public between 11 P.M. and 6 A.M. Sunday through Thursday. The curfew for Friday and Saturday is midnight to 6 A.M.
Children found breaking curfew will be sent or taken home or held by police, city officials said, and their parents or guardians warned. Parents or guardians of repeat offenders could face up to 60 days in jail and fines of up to $1,000.
Officials of the American Civil Liberties Union have said the law is unconstitutional, but, as of last week, no suit had been filed.
Already-existing tensions between teachers and administrators in the Denver school district have been stoked by an order from officials banning the wearing of T-shirts bearing anti-school-board slogans.
The shirts in question are emblazoned on the back with a symbol that can be read as "Just Say No to the School Board."
The administration and the teachers' union have been meeting since August in an unsuccessful effort to resolve differences over salaries and school management in a new contract. The T-shirts are only the latest evidence of the escalating bitterness.
Earlier, members of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association approved a measure calling for a strike vote after Dec. 14 if they do not have a new contract by then. The current contract expires Dec. 31.
After the vote, Rae Garrett, the union's president, said school-board members "appear to be taking teachers seriously now."