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Published in Print: June 23, 2004, as News in Brief: A National Roundup

News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Cleveland Board Slashes $100 Million From Schools

The Cleveland school board last week approved cutting $100 million from the district’s budget, reducing next school year’s budget to $600 million.

In a unanimous vote on June 15, the nine-member board of Ohio’s largest district approved eliminating 1,400 jobs, including 1,000 teaching positions, for the 2004-05 school year. The 72,000-student district had about 8,500 full-time employees this school year.

"The cuts are going to have a devastating effect on the next school year," said Alan Seifullah, the chief communication officer for the district.

Overtime hours will be cut, so schools will be closed at the end of the instructional day, and no extracurricular activities or parent programs will be held there. Spending on supplies, including textbooks, also will be reduced. Summer school programs will only be available for seniors who need them to graduate.

And because the budget measures include a reduction in transportation spending, more students will have to walk to school or use public transportation, Mr. Seifullah said.

He said the deficit was the result of several factors: lower-than-anticipated revenue from property taxes, a drop in state aid because of declining enrollment, and health-insurance costs.

—Tal Barak

Colo. Administrators Sentenced For Scheme to Pad Salaries

A former superintendent of a Colorado school district and one of his deputies have each been sentenced to six years in prison for allegedly using a simple scheme to pad their salaries.

Bruce Bartlett, who led the 2,900-student Elizabeth public schools from 1996 to 2002, was convicted last year in a state court of multiple counts of theft and embezzlement.

Prosecutors argued that the superintendent had tricked his school board into signing contracts that paid him more than had been agreed to. Similar charges were made against Mr. Bartlett’s finance director, Nancie Munsey, who was convicted in the same trial.

In handing down their six-year prison terms on June 11, a district court judge said the two could remain free during their appeals. The judge also chastised the Elizabeth school board for lax oversight.

A lawyer for Mr. Bartlett said last week that his client had been made the "fall guy" for larger financial problems in the district, which last year required a state loan to fix. A lawyer for Ms. Munsey could not be reached for comment.

—Jeff Archer

Minneapolis Board Taps Educator From Cleveland as Superintendent

The Minneapolis school board has chosen a first-time superintendent to lead the 43,000-student district.

Thandiwe Peebles, a regional superintendent in Cleveland, will replace interim schools chief David Jennings in July. The seven-member school board unanimously approved starting contract negotiations with Ms. Peebles during a June 14 meeting.

Ms. Peebles, 61, started her career in New York City as an elementary school teacher in Harlem and went on to become a middle school principal. In Cleveland, Ms. Peebles supervises the district’s lowest-performing schools in an effort to raise student achievement and improve leadership.

Last fall, the board voted to promote Mr. Jennings to the superintendency permanently, but a lawsuit and criticism about the selection process led to his withdrawal from consideration. ("In Search for Schools Chiefs, Boards Struggle," Oct. 29, 2003.)

—Karla Scoon Reid

ACLU Sues Detroit Schools, Police; Illegal Student Searches Alleged

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has sued the Detroit school system and the city’s police department, claiming that students were unlawfully searched at Mumford High School.

On Feb. 18, according to the June 10 complaint filed in federal district court, police and school security officers conducted an unannounced search, inspecting Mumford students’ pockets, purses, and school bags. Students themselves were also searched. No weapons or drugs were found during the 90-minute search.

"A search with no particular or individualized suspicion turned this schoolhouse into a jailhouse," Amos E. Williams, a lawyer working on the case, said in a news release.

But Anthony Adams, the 150,000-student district’s general counsel, said the search was conducted according to district policy and the law. He said such searches are a tool to deter illegal activities.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Md. Suburb Prohibits Teachers From Grading Summer Projects

Summer homework will be optional for secondary students in a Baltimore suburb this year.

The Baltimore County school system announced last week that it would no longer allow teachers to assign homework that would be graded at the beginning of the next school year.

Teachers still will be permitted to request that students read books, but they won’t be allowed to grade any projects based on that reading when the school year begins in August, according to Charles A. Herndon, a spokesman for the 108,000-student district, which does not include the city of Baltimore.

The district made the change, Mr. Herndon said, after a parent wrote the superintendent suggesting that it was unfair to expect some students, especially those who travel extensively or are moving into the district, to be expected to complete projects over the summer.

—David J. Hoff

‘Lead Teacher’ Positions Created In Bid to Help Bronx Schools

Newly created "lead teacher" positions in the New York City schools will pay educators $10,000 above their regular salaries to teach and mentor other teachers in low-performing schools.

As many as three dozen teachers will be selected to work next school year in nine elementary schools and one middle school in the borough of the Bronx, the school system and the city teachers’ union announced last week. The teachers will each spend half their time sharing a classroom with another lead teacher, and half helping other educators in their respective schools.

The school district will pay $1.6 million toward the one-year pilot project. A coalition of Bronx community and parent groups, which suggested the program, will contribute at least $200,000. Committees that include administrators, parents, and teachers will screen and pick the lead teachers, with the schools’ principals having veto power.

Both the United Federation of Teachers and city school officials hailed the new program as a possible model for the 1.1 million-student district, which has been eager to create pay incentives for teachers.

—Bess Keller

Student Suspended for Prank Offering Condoms for Prom

A high school student in New York state was suspended and barred from her prom and graduation ceremony for mailing hundreds of letters to students’ homes on official-looking school stationery offering birth control and motel rooms for the senior prom.

When parents in the Long Island community opened their mailboxes earlier this month, they found a letter—ostensibly from Newfield High School Principal Mitchell Ross—that offered students a "protection package," including condoms and other birth-control items. The letter said that "a number of rooms will be made available" at the inn hosting the June 23 prom.

The mastermind of the prank apparently drew her inspiration from an MTV program. The principal of the 1,700-student Seldon, N.Y., school said the girl had lifted a directory of students’ home addresses from the faculty room, pasted over the body of a letter sent home earlier in the school year by the principal, and casually dropped off the fake notices at the school mailroom, where they were postmarked and sent.

"It took a bright mind to pull this off," Mr. Mitchell said.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Illinois Board Loosens Reins On East St. Louis Schools

The Illinois board of education has approved a plan to dissolve a financial-oversight panel appointed in 1994 for the historically troubled East St. Louis school system and move toward returning budgetary control to the district.

The state board voted 6-0 on June 16 to ratify the agreement, which was supported by state Superintendent Robert E. Schiller, on the condition that the dissolution of the oversight panel not occur before July 1, said board spokeswoman Karen T. Craven. The board directed the state superintendent to maintain some financial oversight of the schools. The agreement still needs to be approved by the district, officially known as East St. Louis School District 189, before it takes effect, Ms. Craven said.

Ten years ago, the 9,500-student district had a $5 million deficit and a total operating budget of $72 million; today, it has $20 million in reserves and a $92 million budget, said Richard J. Mark, the chairman of the financial-oversight panel.

—Sean Cavanagh

Camden, N.J., Schools Lose Challenge to Governance Law

A New Jersey school board that has been fighting state control for more than two years has lost an appeal for independence.

The Camden board of education filed suit in July 2002, after legislation authorizing a $175 million recovery plan for the city gave Gov. James E. McGreevey the authority to restructure the board and veto its actions. A state appellate court this month rejected the district’s challenge to the state law.

The nine-member board, which consists of three gubernatorial appointees, three mayoral appointees, and three elected officials, has not decided if it will appeal to the state supreme court, said board solicitor Harvey Johnson.

Juliet Johnson, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, said the state did what was necessary to ensure that students in Camden received an education that would prepare them for the future.

—Marianne D. Hurst

Vol. 23, Issue 41, Page 4

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