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Alabama Chief Takes Over District With Budget Surplus

In an unusual move, the Alabama state schools superintendent has assumed fiscal management of a school district that may have as much as $1 million in the bank.

Typically, states take over districts with severe shortfalls. But state Superintendent Ed Richardson said he took control of the 2,800-student Wilcox County system this month because, although it may have a surplus, its records are a mess.

"The records are so poorly done, no one knows how much it's got," he said.

The district's annual budget is about $15 million, according to S.C. Collier, the district's acting superintendent.

Mr. Richardson has appointed Jim Boyde, a retired superintendent from another district, to act as Wilcox's chief financial officer for at least one year.

"I'm looking at it optimistically," Mr. Collier said of the takeover. "I hope that something very good is going to come out of it."

New Leadership Sought: The Omaha, Neb., school board will not renew the contract of Norbert Schuerman, who has held his job longer than any other current urban superintendent in the country.

The board voted last week to let Mr. Schuerman's contract expire in August 1997.

The vote had less to do with policy matters than with what some board members saw as the need for new leadership, said William R. Meier, the board's vice president, who voted against the contract renewal. "As I look to the future," he said, "I don't see those leadership qualities there."

The decision drew protests from employees and others who have supported Mr. Schuerman during his 12-year tenure at the helm of the 44,000-student district. "It just totally destroys morale for the professional staff in the last two weeks of the year," said Carolyn Grice, the president of the Omaha Education Association.

"It's obvious the board doesn't want me at the post," Mr. Schuerman said last week. "However, I can assure the community that I will do everything possible to give my best, to carry on, and help provide the best educational opportunities to the kids."

Taken Off the List

Three San Francisco schools will be removed from a 1982 federal court order that required improvement in the academic achievement of minority children.

Three of the nine schools under supervision have improved enough to "graduate" from the program, said Gail M. Kaufman, a district spokeswoman. Three other schools will remain in it for at least another year, and three will be reconstituted. Under reconstitution, the administrative and teaching staffs of schools that are not performing well are replaced.

The schools were assessed on their reading and math scores, how well they have met certain criteria set by the state, and their attendance and dropout rates.

Recognizing Lay Teachers

A New Jersey appeals court has ruled that lay elementary school teachers in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Camden have the right to organize and bargain collectively.

The three-judge panel of the New Jersey Superior Court rejected the church's arguments that being required by the state to recognize the union interferes with its constitutional right to freedom of religion.

The South Jersey Catholic School Teachers Association, which already represents about 220 lay high school teachers in the diocese, is seeking to represent lay teachers at six Catholic elementary schools.

The court ruled that the church must bargain with the lay teachers. The right to organize is a "compelling state interest which outweighs the claimed burden on defendants' free-exercise rights," the court said in its May 16 ruling.

The diocese likely will appeal the ruling, according to schools Superintendent David Coghlan.

Tax Assistance in Schools

More than 1,000 Chicago families had help preparing their income-tax returns this year, thanks to a partnership between the school district and Arthur Andersen.

More than 400 volunteers from the Chicago-based professional-services provider offered free tax assistance at 12 city schools, a company spokesman said. The help reaped more than $1 million in refunds for the participants.

The partnership grew out of talks between Ken Gotsch, the district's chief financial officer, and teachers who needed tax assistance. The 413,000-student district decided to join with Arthur Andersen's Citywide Tax Assistance Program, begun in 1995 to help low-income families file their tax returns.

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