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News Roundup: Districts

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Report: D.C. Schools Employ Hundreds With Criminal Records: By failing to conduct required background checks on thousands of employees, the District of Columbia school system has hired hundreds of people with criminal records, according to a report by the city auditor.

The report released this month charges that school district officials have shown a "callous disregard for the safety and welfare of students." It was conducted after the conviction of a security guard for sexually molesting two junior high school students.

The report says the system does not have accurate records on how many of its 14,000 employees have undergone background checks.

It says that, of 1,828 employees hired between October 1993 and December 1994, 114 had criminal records. Of those, 47 were hired as teachers and substitute teachers.

In a statement accompanying the report, Superintendent Franklin L. Smith said he agreed with the findings and had taken steps to resolve the problem.

In the Red: Nevada officials are weighing measures to prevent a small rural school district from ending the school year with a $2.6 million shortfall.

The White Pine County district does not have enough money to pay its bills, according to the state department of taxation, which has taken control of the district's finances. The legislature is considering several bills that would bail the district out temporarily, said Mike Pitlock, the chief of the taxation department.

The crisis in the 1,850-student district stemmed from poor planning and accounting on a project to build a new high school, Mr. Pitlock said.

Any money the state provides will have to be paid back, he added. "The state of Nevada has made it clear that this is not a bailout."

Telltale Tans: School officials in Waterbury, Conn., are cracking down on teachers who may have abused their sick leave to bask in the sun.

The school board president, Robert Urso, said he became suspicious when more than 20 teachers took sick time before or after the Presidents' Day weekend in February and returned looking a little too rested. He suspected that teachers used sick days to prolong the school holiday.

"That's what started this," Mr. Urso said. "We started spotting all these teachers with great tans."

The district and the teachers' union agreed this month to ask teachers who misused leave to pay back two days for every one they missed. District officials are hoping the offenders will come forward.

Phone Kibosh in Oshkosh: In an effort to prevent class disruptions, a Wisconsin district is considering a ban on cellular telephones and pagers.

The 10,000-student Oshkosh district is moving to restrict the use of cellular devices in school buildings as a preventive measure, said Superintendent Jim Henderson.

"We haven't had any problems with students using the phones or disrupting classes," he said. "We do allow the use of pagers or cellular phones by students who have a valid reason to carry them, such as a medical condition."

Letting Counselors Counsel: An Indiana district wants to increase the amount of time guidance counselors have to actually advise students.

As part of a reorganization of the 32,000-student Fort Wayne school system, Superintendent Thomas Fowler-Finn is redefining the role of counselors. The changes will enable them to give more time to students and less to administrative duties, he said.

The most noticeable changes will occur in middle schools, where in some cases assistant principals were also serving as counselors, the superintendent said.

"Currently, just four of our 11 middle schools have full-time counselors," Mr. Fowler-Finn said.

Prom Precautions: Three county prosecutors in northwest Missouri have launched a campaign to warn hotel owners that they accommodate trouble when they rent rooms to teenagers on prom night.

The prosecutors, from Jackson, Clay, and Platte counties, have sent letters asking local hotel managers not to rent rooms to teenagers or parents acting on behalf of teenagers. The practice invites underage alcohol consumption, property damage, and drunk-driving fatalities, the letters say.

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