District News Roundup
A federal judge has blocked the Tucson (Ariz.) Unified School District from closing a high school near the center of town after concluding that the move would cause the district to become more segregated.
U.S. District Judge Alfredo C. Marquez last week ruled that the district had failed to show, as required under the terms of a 1978 settlement of a desegregation suit, that closing the school would be consistent with ongoing efforts to reduce segregation and would not place a disproportionate burden on minority students.
The district had proposed closing Catalina High School, reassigning its students, and building a new school in the southwest section of town.
The parents of minority students objected, however, arguing that closing Catalina, the most ethnically balanced high school in the district, would cause more segregation and disproportionately burden the heavily minority schools that would be receiving more minority students.
The school board for Savannah and Chatham County, Ga., has asked that the district be declared "unitary,'' or free of the vestiges of school segregation.
In a motion filed late last month in U.S. District Court, the board says it has taken "extraordinary steps'' to rid the district of the vestiges of the dual system in place when black parents filed suit against the district in 1962.
Most recently, the board in 1988 replaced the district's mandatory busing program with a magnet-school plan designed to draw students to schools where they were the racial minority. The district, which remains under court supervision, also took steps to close segregated schools, to build integrated new schools, and to recruit and hire black teachers, the motion says.
Where the district's schools remain racially identifiable, "it is because of their isolated geographic location or demographic factors beyond the power and control of the school district,'' the motion says.
The motion asks the court to return supervision and control of the district to the school board.
For the first time in the district's history, a majority of the seats on the Los Angeles school board will be filled by members of minority groups.
In board elections late last month, Victoria Castro, a Latina, became the fourth minority member on the current seven-member board, which oversees the nation's second-largest school system.
Two white incumbents, Mark Slavkin and Julie Korenstein, also were re-elected last month from newly drawn districts.
Observers say the minority board members will likely form a voting bloc to oppose moves to divide the sprawling, 640,000-student district into several autonomous units. After another board member, Roberta Weintraub, retires later this year, Ms. Korenstein and Mr. Slavkin will be the only remaining members who support the breakup.
An audit of the District of Columbia public schools charges that the school district has mismanaged its payroll and budgeting process.
A report released last month by the city's auditor, Otis Troupe, concludes that the school system does not know how many people are on its payroll because accurate documentation does not exist.
The report says the school system lacks the data necessary to support its budget requests to the city or Congress, which approves the city's budget.
The audit, requested by the city council, found that last fiscal year the district overspent its personnel budget by almost $1.9 million. According to Mr. Troupe, 161 unauthorized positions cost the city $2.8 million that year.
Mr. Troupe recommended that the school board and the city government restructure and merge their budget processes. He criticized the district for not adopting recommendations made in 1989 by the D.C. Committee on Public Education, a blue-ribbon commission charged with studying the school system, to reduce noninstructional positions and increase efficiency within the system.
The committee called for the elimination of 400 central-office positions, saving the school system $8.5 million annually. In 1991, the number of administrators in the district was still on the rise. (See Education Week, Nov. 20, 1991.)
Deputy Superintendent Richard Winston contended that the school system and the city government's budget process must remain separate. He added that Mr. Troupe's report "misrepresents'' the roles of the budget, personnel, and finance departments in the school system.
Controversy over a local sales-tax increase in San Francisco has been reopened by a superior court judge's ruling that the levy, which has raised $22 million, was illegally approved.
Local interests have already fought in court over the temporary one-quarter cent sales-tax increase passed in 1991. The measure won a majority of the vote but not the supermajority required for special taxes under California's Proposition 13 tax-limitation law.
The San Francisco Unified School District has reaped about $15 million from the tax, with the rest of the proceeds set aside for the city college district. Superior Court Judge Joe Gray ruled late last month, however, that a two-thirds vote was necessary to pass the tax.
Lawyers for the schools promised an appeal, and many observers recalled their advice that school officials put the money in escrow until the legal challenges were done. Instead, the district has used the funds to avoid budget cuts. The tax is set to expire June 30. A ballot measure extending the levy has been set for a June 15 vote.
The outgoing Dade County, Fla., county commission has moved to repeal an ordinance requiring that all of its business be conducted in English.
Members of the Metropolitan Dade Board of County Commissioners last month voted 5 to 0 to repeal the ordinance at the request of Metro Mayor Stephen P. Clark, who argued that such a change is inevitable given the county's large and growing Hispanic population.
The ordinance, adopted by voters in 1980, prohibits the municipality from conducting business or printing most documents in any language other than English. It makes exceptions for emergencies and for election materials.
The commission must ratify its decision to repeal the ordinance
after a final hearing on the proposal scheduled for May 18.