News in Brief: A National Roundup
Cleveland Voters Reject Curb On Property-Tax Abatements
Cleveland voters by a wide margin have spurned a proposal designed to direct more money to schools by limiting property-tax abatements for economic development.
The Aug. 5 vote was a victory for Mayor Michael R. White, who said that limiting the tax breaks would hamstring the city's efforts to lure new businesses. One week after the special election, Gov. George V. Voinovich signed a bill giving the mayor broad powers over the debt-ridden Cleveland schools. ("Cleveland To Vote on Limiting Tax Abatements," June 4, 1996, and "Mayor To Get School Control in Cleveland," July 9, 1997.)
The 5,000-member Cleveland Teachers Union spearheaded the referendum. The union contends that the district loses $21 million annually from the abatements, which allow new developers to pay taxes on only a portion of a property's value. The state auditor pegs the economic impact closer to $10 million.
Only 42 percent of the voters supported the union's plan, which would have compelled the city or a developer to give the school district its portion of property taxes based on the total value of the property, despite any abatements. Union officials said turnout for the special election was only about 13 percent of registered voters.
Admissions Rule Challenged
A lawyer who sued to get his daughter admitted to the selective Boston Latin School in 1995 is suing again. But this time he's representing another white student and challenging a new admissions policy approved by the Boston school board last December.
The revised policy reserves half of the seats in the district's three "exam schools" for students with the highest scores. The other slots are filled through a system that considers both test scores and race.
Michael C. McLaughlin is seeking an injunction in U.S. District Court in Boston that would allow Sarah Wessmann to enter Boston Latin's 9th grade this fall. The girl is one of 10 white students who would have been admitted had the policy been based solely on test scores.
District officials are standing by their policy. A hearing was scheduled for Sept. 2.
Mr. McLaughlin's first suit was dismissed because an earlier court ruling allowed his daughter to be admitted to the school.
Go to School, Win a TV
St. Louis public school students had an extra incentive to show up this week for the first day of classes. Everyone who did so became eligible to win one of five large-screen televisions in a sweepstakes drawing to be held later in the year.
All those who attend the first four days of school will get a 12-inch ruler.
"The first day is one of the low-attendance days, and you want to get kids in the school in the beginning," Superintendent Cleveland Hammonds Jr. said in a recent interview.
One out of four students in the 45,000-student system skipped the first day last year, according to Mr. Hammonds. The district loses about $24 daily in state aid for each student who is absent.
Maritz Inc., a Fenton, Mo.-based performance-improvement company that is running the giveaway, has donated more than $3 million in prizes over the past eight years to encourage attendance in the St. Louis schools.
Kindergarten Fee Proposed
The Seattle school district is expected to decide in November whether to charge parents a fee for enrolling their children in all-day kindergarten.
School officials said the revenue would allow them to offer enough all-day classes to meet the high demand.
One all-day kindergarten class is currently offered for free at each of the district's 64 elementary schools. Because of limited funding, about one-fourth of the families who would prefer an all-day program must enroll their children in half-day classes, according to the district.
The school board is considering a monthly fee ranging from $120 to $220. Six suburban districts in the Seattle area already charge for all-day kindergarten.
Seattle officials have proposed using the $1.6 million the district now allots for all-day kindergarten to pay the way for students from low-income families.
Parents would still have the option of sending their children to a half-day program.
Lawrence, Mass., Chief Fired
The Lawrence, Mass., school board has fired Superintendent James F. Scully.
Mr. Scully, who had been suspended with pay from his position since July, was removed from his post Aug. 7 amid allegations of mismanagement, wasteful spending, and patronage.
Schools in the 11,600-student district were considered by the state to be chronically underperforming, and Lawrence's only high school was nearly stripped of its accreditation in March. ("Mass. Board Moves To Take Over Lawrence Schools," June 25, 1997.)
Kenneth Seifert, a former Andover, Mass., schools superintendent, has been appointed acting superintendent for this year.
Before Mr. Scully's dismissal, the Massachusetts education department seemed poised to put the district into receivership. But at a state school board meeting Aug. 15, members indicated that Mr. Scully's removal will force them to reevaluate that decision.
Desegregation Order Lifted
Declaring that the Kansas City, Kan., school system has more than satisfied a 20-year-old desegregation order, a federal judge has cleared the way for the district to return to neighborhood schools.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Earl E. O'Connor came nearly three years after the 21,000-student school system agreed to work with the U.S. Department of Justice, which brought the lawsuit in 1973, on a plan to end the case.
As a result of the ruling, which the judge issued from the bench last month, district officials will phase out busing for racial balance this school year and next, and close four schools because of declining enrollment over the next several years. The system has also committed itself to a wide-ranging plan to upgrade instruction and facilities districtwide.
Math Teachers Suspended
School officials in Lancaster, Texas, have suspended a high school math department head and five teachers without pay for using a work sheet that framed word problems around minority stereotypes, drugs, guns, and sex.
The work sheets were distributed to more than 100 students at Elsie Robertson High School on the first day of classes. The math problems asked students to calculate percentages involving drug sales, drive-by shootings, and teenage pregnancies.
Superintendent Bill Ward said in an interview that the teachers displayed "poor judgment," but he declined to comment further. The department head, suspended for 60 days, and the five teachers, suspended for 30 days, account for half the high school's math department.
Scott Martin, the department head, told The Dallas Morning News that he received the work sheet four or five years ago at a teacher workshop and has used it before without incident.
Bilingual Ed. Curb Blocked
A California judge has temporarily stopped the Orange County school system from carrying out its plan to dismantle bilingual classes.
A suit filed by local parents "raises significant questions" about whether the plan meets federal protections for non-English-speaking students, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Ronald B. Robie ruled Aug. 18.
He added, however, that federal law does not require instruction in a student's primary language. A full hearing could be held this month.
The state school board in July granted Orange County permission to waive bilingual programs for one year. About 1,500 of the district's 29,000 students were taught last year in bilingual classes.
Principal Guilty of Assault
The principal of Marcus Garvey Public Charter School in Washington is scheduled to be sentenced next month for assaulting a newspaper reporter and two police officers.
Washington Times reporter Susan Ferrechio was visiting Garvey last December to write a story on charter schools. Ms. Ferrechio, who is white, said that Principal Mary A.T. Anigbo and three staff members, all of whom are black, attacked her and yelled racial comments. ("School Head Indicted in Scuffle With Reporter," Jan. 15, 1997.)
The District of Columbia Superior Court judge in a nonjury trial this summer rejected Ms. Anigbo's claims that the reporter and the police officers, who are black, instigated the confrontations and displayed racial bias.
Ms. Anigbo was convicted of unlawfully taking the reporter's notebook and three counts of simple assault. She faces up to 21 months in jail and fines up to $3,300.
She plans to appeal the decision and sue both the Washington police department and The Washington Times, said her lawyer, Veronice Holt.
Evolution Disclaimer Barred
A Louisiana school board can no longer require teachers to read students a disclaimer before discussing evolution, a federal court has ruled.
The Tangipahoa Parish district's disclaimer, required since 1994, violates the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against government establishment of religion, U.S. District Judge Marcel Livaudais Jr. said in the Aug. 11 decision.
The disclaimer, which teachers were told to read when the theory of evolution was addressed in class, says in part: "The lesson to be presented ... [is] not intended to influence or dissuade the biblical version of creation or any other concept."
Two parents filed the original lawsuit against the district in 1994 on behalf of their children. The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana joined in the suit.
The Tangipahoa school board voted unanimously last month to appeal the decision.
Wash. Union Worker Fined
A union employee has been fined $2,300 by a Washington state agency for falsely reporting her employer on disclosure forms required of lobbyists.
The state Public Disclosure Commission, which administers the state's campaign-finance laws, levied the fines against Kristeen Hanselman, who worked last fall on campaigns that helped defeat state voucher and charter school initiatives.
Ms. Hanselman reported on 23 monthly forms that her employer was the Washington Education Association, when she was actually on the payroll of the National Education Association, the commission found.
Ms. Hanselman is now employed by the WEA, coordinating its ballot-initiative efforts.
Critics of the state teachers' union, which is embroiled in a separate state legal case over alleged campaign-finance violations, accused the WEA of covering up the national union's involvement in state politics.
Trevor Neilson, a spokesman for the WEA, said the case was the result of "a procedural error," adding that Ms. Hanselman shouldn't have filed the forms in the first place because she was not a lobbyist.
Charter Law Prompts Suit
The Beaufort County, S.C., school board has sued the state for a second time over a proposed charter school.
The latest suit, filed last month in the U.S. District Court in Charleston, claims that a 1996 state charter school law clashes with the federal voting-rights law by giving the parents of children in the Lighthouse Charter School two votes in setting local education policy.
Under the state law, the parents could elect the board of directors of the school, to be located on Hilton Head Island, as well as vote for one local school board member. Parents of students in other public schools get only one vote, said John Williams, a spokesman for the 15,000-student Beaufort County district.
The state school board, which was named as a defendant in the case along with Lighthouse organizers, is responsible only for interpreting the charter school law, not for determining its constitutionality, said Jim Foster, the spokesman for the state education department.
The county school board filed an earlier lawsuit in state court in hopes of blocking creation of the charter school. ("Racial Makeup at Issue in S.C. Charter Debate," April 30, 1997.) That suit, which concerns the school's racial composition, is still pending.
Injured Mass. Counselor Dies
A middle school guidance counselor in Lowell, Mass., has died as a result of head injuries he suffered while breaking up a fight involving several students in March.
David McHugh and another Lowell Sullivan Middle School teacher were trying to stop the fight when a 14-year-old student knocked Mr. McHugh to the ground and kicked him several times in the head, causing multiple hairline fractures of the skull, according to police reports.
Mr. McHugh, 34, was hospitalized but never fully recovered from his injuries, police said. He collapsed and died at his Dracut home Aug. 12.
The state medical examiner has ruled the death a homicide.
A spokesman for the Middlesex County district attorney's office said authorities were considering charging the 14-year-old with murder.
Judge Sets Disability Rules
Boston University violated federal disability laws when it refused to accommodate the special needs of learning-disabled students and forced them to undergo additional evaluations, a federal judge has ruled.
But the university, which will pay a total of $30,000 to six students, also claimed victory in the case, saying the ruling upheld many of its policies for such students.
Guckenberger et al. v. Boston University stemmed from complaints by 10 learning-disabled students over university policies that barred certain forms of accommodation and required students to provide recent documentation of their disabilities. They said the additional tests would cost each student about $1,000. ("Special Education," Aug. 7, 1996.)
Under last month's ruling, the university will be allowed to insist that learning-disabled students take math classes and that they provide an evaluation no more than 3 years old to qualify for services.
Diary Entry Leads to Suit
The parents of a Florida high school student who wrote about her drug use in a psychology-class journal and says she later contracted a sexually transmitted disease while under the influence of marijuana have filed a lawsuit against the Collier County school board.
The plaintiffs claim the high school teacher who assigned and read the journal was obligated under state law to report the student's drug use to school officials. According to the lawsuit, filed in the county's circuit court in July, the girl was attending a Collier County public high school in the fall of 1995. Neither the teacher nor the school was identified.
The suit seeks a jury trial and unspecified monetary compensation. The lawyer for the school board, Donna Slebodnik, said a motion has been filed to dismiss the suit.
Police Charge Calif. 'Teacher'
A convicted forger in Inglewood, Calif., has been charged with impersonating a Los Angeles Unified School District teacher.
Willie Clifton Wright, 59, taught English illegally at Morningside High School between 1986 and 1996 under the name of Robert Eugene Sullivan, according to the Los Angeles district attorney's office. Mr. Wright was accused of obtaining a Social Security card, driver's license, and credit cards under the assumed name.
Mr. Wright was discovered only after the real Robert Sullivan, an adult education teacher for the district schools, retired, a spokeswoman for the district attorney said. Investigators from the state's Teachers Retirement System found that a pension account was receiving money from both Mr. Sullivans.
The charges against Mr. Wright include perjury, false impersonation, and one count of grand theft exceeding $150,000. A preliminary hearing in the case was scheduled for this week.
Mr. Wright was convicted in 1972 of forgery and writing bad checks.