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Published in Print: December 4, 2002, as News in Brief: A National Roundup

News in Brief: A National Roundup

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NEA Salary Survey Puts Teacher Pay at $44,299

California, Connecticut, and New York posted the highest average annual teacher salaries in the nation during the last school year, while South Dakota, North Dakota, and Mississippi had the lowest, according to new figures from the National Education Association.

The national average annual salary was $44,299, though the average in 36 states fell below that, the report says.

The 2.5 million-member union estimated that total revenues for education in 2001-02 increased by 4.3 percent over the previous school year, or 1.6 percent less than the nation's rate of economic growth. Teachers' salaries also grew more slowly than the economy, the report says.

—Bess Keller

L.A. Officials Pledge To Improve High School

Officials in the Los Angeles school district are beefing up security at a large high school after teachers at the school contended that violence, drugs, and sex among students had rendered the campus "out of control."

In a Nov. 7 letter to their union, one or more unnamed teachers at George Washington Preparatory High School said students there were robbed and beaten daily. They also gamble, drink, take drugs, and have sex in school buildings, the letter said, ending with the sentence: "Please help us."

After receiving the letter, leaders of United Teachers-Los Angeles sent officials to the campus to interview teachers. They witnessed several fights, established through interviews that "the thrust" of the letter was accurate, and asked Superintendent Roy Romer for help, said union President John Perez.

William Elkins, the director of school services for high schools in the subdistrict that includes Washington Prep, said many of the allegations in the letter were "exaggerated." But he acknowledged that the school of 3,800 students, in one of Los Angeles' most embattled neighborhoods, needs better security and discipline, and said that officials are taking steps to improve both.

By early this month, 10 security staffers will be added and a wrought-iron fence completed to keep outsiders from causing trouble on campus, Mr. Elkins said. Two key administrative vacancies have contributed to oversights in security and discipline, he said, and those positions have been filled.

As for the letter's descriptions of trouble being exaggerated, Mr. Perez said: "I respectfully disagree."

—Catherine Gewertz

La. Governor Settles Suit Over Religious Activities

Gov. Mike Foster of Louisiana has settled a lawsuit that challenged the use of state money for religious activities by grant recipients in the governor's abstinence-only sex education program.

The settlement last month calls for the governor's office to closely monitor all activities financed by the abstinence program. Funding recipients will submit monthly reporting forms certifying that no activities or materials supported by state aid include religious content. Recipients found to be promoting religion will have to correct the violation promptly or face removal from the state program.

In its lawsuit, the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana cited several examples of recipients' use of the money for religious activities. A theater group used $29,500 in program money to put on skits at schools featuring a character named "Bible Guy" who promoted abstinence. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Lafayette used $46,000 in state funds to operate a "chastity" program called "God's Gift of Life," the suit said.

A federal district judge in New Orleans issued a preliminary injunction on July 25 barring the abstinence program from paying for religious activities. The office of Gov. Foster, a Republican, had appealed that action, but the settlement will bring the case to a close.

—Mark Walsh

School Board President Gets Ticket for Dumping Manure

The president of a Colorado school board was cited for littering after he dumped a bucket of horse manure in the office of his hometown newspaper.

Samuel A. Mitchek, 39, the president of the board in the 330-student Cheyenne County district on the eastern edge of the state, spread the dung at the office of the Range Leader in Cheyenne Wells after he read stories about the previous night's school board meeting.

"It was a protest against the biased reporting of information," said Gaila J. Mitchek, Mr. Mitchek's wife, who said he received a ticket for littering after the Nov. 20 incident.

The newspaper said that Mr. Mitchek had violated school board policy by denying members of the community the right to make public comments on Nov. 19. A separate article by one of the board's critics who had sought to speak at the meeting listed complaints of a newly formed dissident group.

Mr. Mitchek was angry, his wife said, because the newspaper hadn't mentioned that he told the critics that their newly formed group hadn't informed school officials that its leaders wanted to speak.

School board policy requires 24-hour notice for organized groups, the newspaper said. But it added that members of the group had requested to speak as individuals, who aren't required to give notice.

—David J. Hoff

Congressmen Fault Group For Allowing Gay Mentors

Eight members of the U.S. House of Representatives have criticized the national Big Brothers Big Sisters of America organization, saying one of its school-based mentoring programs allows homosexuals to work with students without their parents' knowledge.

The Nov. 19 letter was sent to President Bush, the honorary chairman of the Philadelphia-based organization, by Republican congressmen, including Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado. It says that Big Brothers Big Sisters should abandon a policy that requires its U.S. affiliates to allow gay people to participate in the groups' school-based mentoring programs without specific consent from students' parents.

The program serves about 70,000 public school students, the letter says, and parents give permission for their children to participate. The letter says parents, however, are not be specifically informed if their children are matched with gay mentors.

Big Brothers Big Sisters said in a statement issued in response to the letter that its permission form provides a section in which parents can express preferences about a volunteer's characteristics, including sexual orientation. Big Brothers Big Sisters honors those preferences, the statement says.

—Michelle R. Davis

Wichita District to End Its Contract With Edison

The Wichita, Kan., school board voted last week to cut its remaining ties with Edison Schools Inc.

The 49,000-student district was one of the first to hire the for-profit school-management company, which took over Dodge Elementary School in 1995 and Jardine Middle School in 1996. Next July, those schools will revert to district management.

The school board voted 6-1 on Nov. 25 to end the management contract with Edison. The board cited a recommendation of Superintendent Winston Brooks, who has said the district can run the schools just as well as the company can, but at a savings of $500,000 a year. Last January, the Wichita board voted to take back two other Edison-run schools.

Edison, based in New York City, said that it was losing money on the contract, and that its end would not affect the company's forecast to turn profitable by its fiscal fourth quarter next spring.

Separately, Edison's share price has been trading above $1 in the past two weeks, staving off the company's threatened "delisting" by the NASDAQ stock market. A series of company press releases in recent weeks about the potential for business growth in the summer school, after-school, and tutoring markets helped boost the share price from an all-time low of 14 cents on Oct. 10 to a close of $1.63 a share on Nov. 26.

"They did what they had to do," said Jeffrey Silber, who follows Edison for Gerard Klauer Mattison & Co., a New York City-based investment bank. "This doesn't mean the company is completely out of the woods, but they have sidestepped a potential land mine."

—Mark Walsh

Minn. Testing Lawsuit Settled

Some 8,000 Minnesota students who were mistakenly told they had failed a state graduation exam could receive a total of up to $7 million under a legal settlement announced last week.

Individual settlements in the class action over a testing contractor's error will range from a few hundred dollars, for freshmen and sophomores who incurred tutoring costs and other expenses because they had to take the exam again, to as much as $16,000 for seniors who were denied high school diplomas.

Almost all of the settlements will be for less than $1,000, according to Lindsay G. Arthur Jr., the Minneapolis lawyer who represented NCS Pearson, the company that scored the exams that were given in 2000.

Only five or six plaintiffs will receive the maximum settlement, Mr. Arthur estimated.

In 2000, NCS Pearson, a unit of the London-based Pearson LLC, used the incorrect answer sheet when scoring the mathematics section of the statewide exam that is required to earn a diploma in the state. The test also includes reading and writing sections. ("Minn. Extends Testing Contract Despite Scoring Mistakes," Sept. 6, 2000.)

Most of the students affected by the error were underclassmen who took the exam but still had several chances to pass it before senior year, Mr. Arthur said. They will be compensated for books they bought, wages they lost, and other financial losses directly related to NCS Pearson's mistake, he said.

A Minnesota state judge has given preliminary approval for the settlement, and a hearing to formally close the case is scheduled for next year. All students eligible for settlements will likely be compensated by next spring, Mr. Arthur said.

—David J. Hoff

Vol. 22, Issue 14, Page 4

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