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Published in Print: March 12, 2003, as News in Brief: A National Roundup

News in Brief: A National Roundup

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S.F. Students Found Dead On School Campling Trip

Two students from a charter school in San Francisco died last week during a backpacking trip organized by their school.

The students' bodies were found at the bottom of a 67-foot ravine in the Los Padres National Forest in Monterey County, Calif. They were reported missing on March 5 and found later that day.

Autopsy results showed that the boys died of head injuries suffered in the fall, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The students, identified as Mikhail Nikolov and Vladislav Bogomolny, both 17, were reportedly on the tenth day of an 11-day trip with 25 classmates from the 150-student Urban Pioneers Experiential Academy, a charter school in the San Francisco Unified School District that emphasizes outdoor activities.

Students from two other district schools, Galileo High School and Downtown High School, were also camping nearby, a news release from the school district said.

The district sent buses to escort the Urban Pioneers students home and was making similar arrangements for students from the other two schools, according to the release.

—Michelle Galley

Portland Teachers Agree To Work 10 Days for Free

Teachers in Portland, Ore., approved a two-year contract last week that has them working 10 days for free. But it preserves a full school year for the 53,000-student district, which was going to slash 24 days off the 171-day academic calendar because of budget cutbacks. ("Portland Schools' Financial Crisis Threatens Future," March 5, 2003.)

The contract was overwhelmingly approved by members of the 3,300-member Portland Association of Teachers, said Ann Nice, the union's president.

The 10 free work days equal 5 percent of teachers' annual pay, which ranges from $28,725 to $60,371. Portland teachers are the lowest-paid teachers in the metropolitan area.

Ratification of the contract reversed an earlier union vote to strike. Portland's mayor and Multnomah County officials helped break the deadlock by stating they would pass temporary tax hikes to shore up the school system.

—Rhea R. Borja

N.Y. Superintendent Fined Over Spec. Ed. Evaluation

The superintendent of a small school district in western New York state will likely appeal a recent $7,000 fine he received for blocking a court-ordered special education evaluation of a 14-year-old student.

Ralph P. Kerr, the superintendent of the Olean schools, had balked at the idea of evaluating the girl to determine whether she needed to be placed at an expensive nearby residential school for special education services.

Mr. Kerr said last week that he had deemed the services to be unnecessary and was trying to save the taxpayers money at a time when the district faces a $2 million deficit in its $28.3 million budget for the current school year.

Cattaraugus County Judge Michael L. Nenno imposed the fine late last month on Mr. Kerr himself, not on the 2,800-student district. The judge had ordered the evaluation on Dec. 18.

The district, which has since evaluated the girl, found that she does not need special education, Mr. Kerr said. She is currently attending regular classes in the district.

—Lisa Fine Goldstein

Texas High School Captures Academic Crown on Latest Try

A Texas high school is celebrating a state academic championship one year after it lost in the competition because of a scoring glitch.

J. Frank Dobie High School won the Texas Academic Decathlon on March 1 and is headed to the national championships next month in Erie, Pa.

Last year, Dobie High fought in state court to be declared the state champion. The judges in the statewide competition refused to revise the Houston-area school's score after they found a student's answer sheet that had been misplaced when scores were tallied. The team would have won the event if all of its members' test results had been counted.

The day before last year's national competition, a state appeals court declared Dobie High the winner. But the state supreme court quickly overturned that decision and sent Lubbock High School to represent the state. ("Scoring Dispute Casts Pall Over Texas Academic Decathlon," April 17, 2002.)

Four out of this year's nine team members were on the team that lost last year's competition, according to Kirk Lewis, the deputy superintendent for administration, public relations, and governmental affairs for Texas' 40,000-student Pasadena school district.

—David J. Hoff

Calif. Education Department Drops Lawsuit Over Grant

The California Department of Education has dropped a lawsuit against a former district school board member after a Los Angeles Superior Court ordered him to repay more than $6.7 million in grant funds last week.

Nativo V. Lopez, a former member of the Santa Ana school board, had been accused of mishandling millions of dollars in federal adult education aid. He and the immigrant- rights group he heads, Hermandad Mexicana Nacional Legal Center, could not account for more than $7 million in federal grants that were supposed to provide citizenship and English classes.

David A. Cheit, the lead lawyer for the state education department, said he was doubtful the state would recoup the full amount of the grant from Mr. Lopez or his center. But if they appear to have the assets, the state will collect, Mr. Cheit said.

Mr. Lopez told local newspapers that he felt vindicated by the court's judgment because it found no intentional wrongdoing on his part.

Santa Ana residents voted overwhelmingly last month to remove Mr. Lopez from the school board in a special recall election supported by Ron K. Unz, a leading opponent of bilingual education. ("Calif. School Board Member Recalled Over Prop. 227," Feb. 12, 2003.)

—Joetta L. Sack

Texas District to Release List of Tax Debtors to Paper

A Texas school district decided last week to accede to a state attorney general's ruling and release delinquent property-tax records requested by a newspaper.

The 1,178-student Hitchcock Independent School District, located in the town of Hitchcock north of Galveston, will not appeal the March 1 ruling by the office of Attorney General Greg Abbott, according to a lawyer for the district who asked not to be named.

Mr. Abbott's office had said that the tax records were open records under Texas law and should be given to the Galveston County Daily News.

The Gulf coast newspaper in February had requested the full listing of almost $1.4 million owed to the school district, after a limited review of the records by the newspaper turned up $5,103 in overdue taxes owed by two members of the district's board of trustees and the mother of a third.

Some of those debts were almost 20 years old. The district fought disclosure of the full list, saying that the records of deadbeat taxpayers were "intimate," "embarrassing," and "of no public concern."

—Ben Wear

N.J. Board Postpones Decision on Newark Chief

The New Jersey state board of education has postponed until at least late April a decision on whether to replace Newark Superintendent Marion A. Bolden.

Commissioner of Education William L. Librera had promised to make his recommendation to the state panel by last week. But he said he needed more time because the Newark school board, an advisory panel in the state-run district, was so deeply divided on the issue.

Hundreds of Ms. Bolden's supporters have staged demonstrations to rally support for keeping her. But the local board voted 5-4 on Feb. 25 to recommend that David Snead, the superintendent in Waterbury, Conn., replace Ms. Bolden. ("N.J. Board to Decide Newark Leader's Fate," March 5, 2003.)

In a March 5 statement, the state board encouraged Mr. Librera to "take the time he needs" to come to a decision. The panel said that once it receives Mr. Librera's recommendation, it will begin a review it estimates will last a month and begin, at the earliest, on April 2.

Under that timetable, Newark residents will decide the composition of their school board before the state board decides on Ms. Bolden. Three of the nine local board members are up for re-election on April 15.

—Catherine Gewertz

California Bilingual Guidelines Prompt Suit Over Reading Grant

A group of parents, students, and advocacy organizations has filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Education, saying it is penalizing some English-learners in restricting applications for grants under a federal reading program.

The state guidelines for districts applying for more than $133 million in state Reading First grants require that the money be used for classes that follow the state reading program in English.

A 1998 law, Proposition 227, curtails bilingual education, in which students are taught in their native languages while they learn English. The law permits bilingual education for students whose parents request waivers.

The state Reading First guidelines initially stated that schools with bilingual classes were ineligible for the money.

After a clarification from a state reading committee, the state school board issued new rules last month. While they allow those schools to apply for the grants, they require that bilingual education classes that benefit from them provide one to 21/2 hours each day of instruction in English.

That standard will essentially disqualify most bilingual education programs, said Mary Hernandez, a staff lawyer with Multicultural Education, Training, and Advocacy Inc., which is representing the plaintiffs.

Rick Miller, a spokesman for the education department, said the English requirement will ensure that students are prepared for state reading tests—in English—beginning in 3rd grade.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Vol. 22, Issue 26, Page 4

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