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Districts: Judge Denies Conn. Town's Plan To Close Schools Early

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A Connecticut judge has rejected a school district's plan to end the school year nearly a month early because of a budget shortfall.

The 3,300-student Windham district had planned to end school on May 19, but Superior Court Judge Samuel Freed ruled May 4 that the district must remain open until June 16 to meet the 180-day minimum required by state law.

Voters rejected a request for a $26.9 million budget this year, said Superintendent Patrick Proctor. In such cases, state law requires districts to maintain the previous year's level of funding--$25.3 million in the case of Windham, Mr. Proctor said. The $1.6 million difference led to the decision to close early.

"Without intervention from some~where, we had no choice but to close the schools early," he said.

Mr. Proctor said state education officials have agreed to meet the shortfall and allow the schools to remain open.

Budget Dispute: The Prince George's County, Md., school system has sued the county's government for moving to withhold millions of dollars the district claims should be spent on public schools.

The proposed county budget for the next fiscal year fails to meet the state requirement that counties support public education at a level at least equal to that of the previous year, the district contends in the lawsuit filed this month in a state court. Counties are also required to make adjustments for increases in their student enrollment.

The school board says the $1.16 billion county budget, which has yet to be approved, does not include the $15 million needed to cover a projected 2,500-student enrollment increase next fall.

Bonnie Bundy, the spokeswoman for the school board, said the budget plan would be devastating to the district, which has an overall budget of roughly $385 million. The 116,000-student district lacks the resources to hire new teachers and buy more textbooks, she said.

But Royce Holloway, a spokesman for County Executive Wayne K. Curry, said the county is meeting its legal obligations and an expensive lawsuit will only worsen the county's fiscal problems.

A ruling on the case is expected later this month.

Arson Damage Investigated: Officials at a New Jersey middle school found satanic and racist graffiti on the walls of the school after firefighters put out a fire set by vandals. The fire extensively damaged the cafeteria.

Authorities in Woodbridge Township have made no arrests in connection with the May 6 fire, which caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage to the cafeteria, a hallway, and a storeroom at Avenel Middle School, said Principal Dennis Kozar.

Avenel's 650 students were attending school in half-day sessions last week. Officials were unclear when full-day operations would resume.

Lunch-Card Success: More needy students are eating free and reduced-price lunches at Maranacock Community School in Maine now that meals are obtained with plastic debit cards.

"Before, kids wouldn't apply because they didn't want people to know they qualified," said Tammy Weymouth, the school's food-service director.

Starting last fall, all students at the school were issued cards--which are almost identical--for use in paying for their lunches.

The number of students eating subsidized meals has since risen from 86 to 136. The school has 714 students in grades 7 through 12 from a mix of needy and affluent communities.

Students eating full-price meals pay $10.75 at the start of the week. "Some parents give us $50 at a time," Ms. Weymouth said.

The $5,000 system provides monthly printouts to let parents know what their children are eating. Parents can also restrict their children's purchases.

No More Room: A Vermont district that historically has enrolled students from neighboring towns in its high school says it will do so no longer.

Officials from the 2,000-student Hartford district decided this month to stop accepting tuition students from towns that do not have high schools of their own.

The move came after district voters refused to authorize construction of a new school for out-of-town students, which would have alleviated overcrowding.

The decision will likely be challenged by at least two neighboring towns, which are now at a loss about where to send their students. Officials of the towns say the Hartford action may violate a contract the district signed in 1962 that guaranteed access to outside students in exchange for state money to help build the existing school.

Poor Attendance Spotlighted: One out of eight high school students in Toledo, Ohio, missed more than 50 days of school in 1993-94, according to a local newspaper.

District officials, at the request of The Blade newspaper, conducted a computer analysis of attendance and found that about 1,300 of the city's 10,036 high school students missed more than 50 days.

Over all, the 37,000-student district's average attendance of 91.77 percent ranked only slightly behind that of the Columbus district among the state's six largest districts, the newspaper reported.

"Toledo can't enforce attendance," Superintendent Crystal Ellis said last week, because the district has neither the time nor the resources.

"We found that our attendance was very high compared to similar large, inner-city schools," he added.

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