News in Brief: A National Roundup
Deal Reached in Long-Running Arkansas Finance Litigation
Arkansas would close almost 20 years of school finance litigation under an agreement to settle a class action challenging the constitutionality of the new formula under which the state distributes education money.
The settlement reached Jan. 28 in the most recent finance case would end the challenges to the formula the legislature adopted in 1995. It also would protect the state from further challenges to the constitutionality of the current formula, according to a lawyer for the state education department.
In the future, districts with claims against the state would be allowed to file suit against it for misinterpreting the 1995 law, but not challenge the law itself.
The pact must be approved by a state judge later this month.
"To have a formula immune to constitutional challenge is a pretty high bar for someone to clear," said James M. Llewellyn Jr., the department's lawyer.
To settle the case, which was originally filed by the Lake View school district and was expanded to include all of the state's districts, the Arkansas board of education agreed not to take over any district in the state for at least two years. It also promised to pay the lawyers' fees for the 200-student Lake View district.
Hornbeck Seeks Class Cuts
Superintendent David W. Hornbeck announced further steps last week in his continuing efforts to improve the Philadelphia schools.
He proposed reducing class size in the early grades, toughening graduation requirements, and abolishing social promotion.
The plan comes just a month after a state legislative panel recommended several controversial ideas to reform the nation's sixth-largest district, including breaking it up into 22 smaller systems. ("Panel Proposes Breaking Up Phila. District," Jan. 14, 1998.)
Mr. Hornbeck's plan includes reducing class size to 20 in grades K-3, requiring more math, science, and foreign-language credits to graduate, and ending the district's practice of not allowing students to be held back for more than one year. But to hire more teachers, and build more schools, the 215,000-student district needs more resources, officials say.
The schools face a projected deficit of more than $100 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1; the district's total budget is $1.4 billion.
The school board is expected to hold public hearings on the superintendent's proposals, which would be phased in starting in 2000, and vote on them this spring.
Part-Time Schooling Rebuffed
A federal appeals court has ruled against an Oklahoma couple who wanted their local school district to allow their home-schooled daughter to take classes there part time.
The legal dispute began in 1995 after the 3,100-student Guthrie district refused to let 8th grader Annie Swanson take two courses in the district while getting the rest of her instruction at home.
District officials argued that state law did not allow such home-schooled students to be included in its student count for state-funding purposes.
Parents Dennis and Lucy Swanson countered that the district's refusal infringed on their free exercise of religion. They home schooled so their daughter could get a Christian education.
But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit based in Denver, upheld on Jan. 29 a lower-court decision to dismiss the case.
Weingarten To Head UFT
The nation's largest union local will be led by lawyer and educator Randi Weingarten, following her election last week as president by the executive board of New York City's United Federation of Teachers.
The board voted 73-7 to have Ms. Weingarten fill the shoes of Sandra Feldman, who last month stepped down to devote more time to her position as the president of the group's parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers.
Before joining the 130,000-member UFT as legal counsel to Ms. Feldman in 1986, Ms. Weingarten's r‚sum‚ included work for a New York City law firm and for the New York Senate's standing committee on labor. She worked as a teacher at a Brooklyn high school between 1991 and 1997. She was elected UFT treasurer last year and began running many of the day-to-day operations when Ms. Feldman took the AFT's helm.
Ms. Weingarten pledged to continue the union's advocacy for school improvement and better working conditions for members, while also continuing to fight against vouchers and other forms of school privatization.
School Admits Using Ringers
School officials at California's Berkeley High School have admitted to rampant athletic-eligibility violations that will force the school to forfeit games in three sports, including at least one league championship.
The estimated 45 violations that took place at the 3,340-student school during the 1996-1997 year included ineligible participation by a local college student who played for the football team, by a German exchange student who helped lead the school to a league championship in tennis, and by three private school students who played water polo on both the boys' and girls' teams.
Officials of the East Bay Athletic League said late last month that they had considered suspending Berkeley High, but instead agreed to the forfeits and promises from the school's new athletic director, Joe Martin, to tighten up eligibility checks.
Construction Still Booming
School districts across the country raced to meet growing student-enrollment demands by completing nearly $12.7 billion in construction and repair projects in 1997, a report says.
It was the second consecutive year that school construction spending topped $12 billion, according to the third annual construction report published in this month's issue of School Planning & Management magazine. Total construction spending is expected to near $14.6 billion this year.
"There appears to be a shift from elementary schools to high schools following student populations," Tim Bete, the magazine's editor, said last week. "At some point, it's going to move on to college campuses."
Half of the 1997 school construction funding went to new buildings, while the remainder was split almost evenly between additions and renovations to existing buildings.
In addition to growing enrollments, new technology needs are driving district construction projects.
Baltimore School Expels 50
The principal of a Baltimore high school who came under fire for suspending 1,200 students in November has permanently removed 50 students from the school.
Effective Feb. 3, 22 students at Northern High School were expelled and 28 students were reassigned to alternative schools within the 110,000-student Baltimore city system. Students reassigned to other schools were not expelled because they are under age 16, and by state law, they must be provided with an education.
Officials say the troubled 1,800-student school, which formed a partnership with Morgan State University and a local television station as a result of the earlier suspensions, is trying to create an environment focused on learning. ("Mass Suspensions Leave Baltimore Reeling," Dec. 3 ,1997.)
New Suit in Pa. Bond Case
A new lawsuit in a bond-fraud case affecting dozens of Pennsylvania districts alleges that the Mid-State Bank & Trust Co. of Altoona, Pa., illegally allowed investment adviser John Gardner Black to withdraw funds from district accounts.
The state lawsuit filed by the Bald Eagle district in Centre County requests class action status on behalf of 49 districts that had money invested through two firms controlled by Mr. Black.
Mr. Black and the two firms, Devon Capital Management Inc. and Financial Management Sciences Inc., settled a lawsuit in December with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC alleged that Mr. Black and his firms defrauded Pennsylvania districts of some $71 million in proceeds from municipal-bond sales. ("55 Pa. Districts Victimized by Alleged Financial Scheme," Nov. 12, 1997.)
The Jan. 23 suit against Mid-State Bank alleges that bank officials had a close relationship with Mr. Black and let him move funds around among accounts. The suit seeks $71 million in actual damages plus unspecified punitive damages for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, and fraud.
In a statement, Mid-State Bank said the bank "had absolutely no duty to monitor investments on behalf of school districts."
Ruth W. Hayre, an education pioneer who was Philadelphia's first black high school principal and school board president, died Jan. 30. She was 87.
Ms. Hayre graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1930, but she could not get a job in her native city and started teaching at Arkansas State College. In 1946, she was hired to teach in Philadelphia, and she became principal of William Penn High School in 1956. She was first appointed to the school board in 1985 and was elected president six years later. She retired from the district last year.
Inspired by philanthropist Eugene Lang's "I Have a Dream" Foundation in New York City, Ms. Hayre established a fund at Temple University in Philadelphia in 1988 to provide college tuition to 6th graders at two inner-city elementary schools. She co-wrote a book, Tell Them We Are Rising: A Memoir of Faith in Education, published last year, that recounted the students' progress and her career.