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The chief financial officer of a California school district has pleaded not guilty to charges that he embezzled more than $2 million in school funds.

Stephen A. Wagner, 40, was arrested late last month, two weeks after being fired by the Newport-Mesa board of trustees. The board took action after discovering four checks totaling $175,356 drawn on district accounts that Mr. Wagner allegedly wrote to a shoe company of which he is a co-owner.

In their audit of Newport-Mesa finances, Orange County police officials reported that Mr. Wagner allegedly took checks sent to the school district and placed them in accounts that supposedly were closed. Mr. Wagner, who has worked for the district for 19 years, allegedly drew from these funds from July 1988 until May 1992.

Carl Biggs, the deputy district attorney for Orange County, said that Mr. Wagner may have embezzled as much as $3 million in school funds.

"He was living beyond his means,'' Mr. Biggs said. Mr. Wagner, who earned $78,000 a year from his school job, owns a Rolls-Royce and two Mercedes-Benz automobiles and has invested in precious gems, according to Mr. Biggs.

Mr. Biggs added that school officials are determined to recover at least some of the funds.

Last week, Mr. Wagner was being held in $1.2 million bail co sg: see nyt. gb in the Orange County jail. He faces up to six years in prison if convicted.

Builders will need to have women well represented in their crews if they hope to get work from the Los Angeles Unified School District, a new school board policy stipulates.

In an effort to promote equal opportunity for women in nontraditional occupations, the board late last month overwhelmingly passed a resolution that would prevent the district's construction contracts from going to contractors and subcontractors who do not try to meet hiring goals for women.

The resolution sets a goal that tradeswomen account for at least 6.9 percent and women apprentices for at least 21.5 percent of the hours worked at each of the district's construction projects.

The resolution also calls for the district to enforce compliance by carefully monitoring construction projects worth at least $1 million or lasting at least six months.

The district's examination of more than $60 million in construction contracts awarded during the 1991-92 school year found that only 1.4 percent of the hours were worked by tradeswomen.

A Fulton County, Ga., grand jury has declined to indict an Atlanta school principal accused of raping a woman who applied for a teaching position at his school.

The woman claimed that Robert L. Sellers, the principal of John Hope Elementary School, raped her in his office during an Aug. 20 interview. She told the grand jury that she was anxious to impress the principal and was frightened into a state of shock when Mr. Sellers made sexual advances toward her.

In testimony Nov. 10, the principal said the woman agreed to have sex with him.

The woman has filed a separate civil suit against the school board, charging that officials knew the principal had a history of sexual harassment.

According to Norman Slawsky, the lawyer for the accuser, that case will probably not be heard until next fall.

The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that a freeze on pay raises by the Huntsville board of education in 1990 was legal.

The court, in a unanimous ruling, upheld the finding of a trial judge that the school board's decision to halt pay raises because of a decrease in state funding did not violate its own policy.

The lower court concluded that the board had followed the guidelines when it consulted with the Huntsville Education Association about the proposed freeze.

The lawsuit, brought against the board by the teachers' union, asked that the pay freeze be lifted and that school personnel receive back pay.

Union officials expressed disappointment with the ruling.

A course entitled "Americanism versus Communism'' that has been taught in the Broward County, Fla., public schools for more than 40 years has gone the way of the Berlin Wall.

The school board for the county, which includes the city of Fort Lauderdale, voted this month to drop the course, which had been required for graduation, from the curriculum.

The decision to eliminate the class, which was included in the social-studies curriculum, was a part of an extensive policy change designed to reduce the number of credits needed to graduate, school officials said.

The course originally was designed to teach the evils of Communism and the benefits of capitalism. But school officials maintain that the course has not been taught that way for many years. Rather, they said, the purpose was to teach students about Bolshevism, Communism, and McCarthyism as history.

A 14-year-old Pennsylvania boy has been sentenced as an adult to life in prison without the possibility of parole for fatally shooting an 18-year-old woman in a Lancaster school playground.

General Trials Court Judge Michael J. Perezous sentenced Ricardo Cruz, who was 13 at the time of the murder, on Nov. 6 after rejecting arguments by the boy's lawyer that the case should have been heard in juvenile court.

The victim, Debbie Rivera, was talking with friends in the playground when Mr. Cruz shot into the crowd, striking her in the head and killing her instantly. His intended target was an 18-year-old man.

Officials for the public defender's office said the reason for the shooting remains unclear. Mr. Cruz is expected to appeal his conviction.

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