District News Roundup

June 03, 1987 6 min read

Nine more employees of the New York City Board of Education have been indicted in a continuing probe of an alleged bribery scheme involving building-maintenance contracts.

The indictments, handed down by a grand jury in late May, bring to 26 the number of current and former school employees charged with participating in the scheme, which is said to have spanned nine years.

The maintenance supervisors and inspectors indicted last month were in charge of supervising the city’s school-maintenance contracts, reviewing contractors’ work, and authorizing payments by the school board. They are accused of threatening to withhold contactors’ payments if bribes were not paid, and of withholding approvals and requisitions for payment to intimidate contractors, Elizabeth Holtzman, the District Attorney for Brooklyn, said in a prepared statement.

Ms. Holtzman said the scheme, including a uniform formula for extorting money from contractors, was worked out by a number of school employees at a dinner meeting in 1977.

All 26 defendants have been charged with multiple counts, including receiving bribes and grand larceny or attempted grand larceny.

The indictments “reveal deep-rooted corruption in the board of education’s division of school buildings,’' Ms. Holtzman said, adding that the city’s schoolchildren and taxpayers “are the victims of this alleged criminality.’'

The investigation that led to the charges began in 1984.

More than 1,700 special-education teachers and teachers’ aides in St. Louis County, Mo., continued to strike last week in defiance of a court order.

St. Louis County Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Weinstock had issued a temporary restraining order on May 18 to block the strike, but the teachers walked out the following day, capping a long-running dispute over salaries. A court hearing on the matter was set for last Thursday.

The striking teachers are employed by the Special School District of St. Louis County, an umbrella district providing special-education and vocational- and technical-education services to more than 17,500 students in the county’s 24 school districts. The teachers have refused an offer of a 3 percent salary increase.

“If we accepted that, we would be dead last among all the school districts in the county,’' said Theodore Tunison, a spokesman for the Missouri National Education Association, which represents the group. He said about 75 percent of the district’s 2,600 teachers and aides stayed home.

Jan Pollock, a district spokesman, called the dispute “a budget issue.’'

“We’ve got 14-year-old school buses on the road, leaky roofs, and water-damaged buildings,’' she said.

Student attendance in the district-operated schools has been about 40 percent during the strike, she said.

A federal district judge has approved a consent decree that settles a desegregation lawsuit against the Broward County, Fla., public schools.

According to Edward Marko, a lawyer for the district, the Broward County school board voted unanimously to approve the decree on April 24, just four days before the case was set to go to trial before U.S. District Judge Kenneth Ryskamp. The judge approved the decree on April 29.

The parents of two black schoolchildren filed the suit in 1981. Unlike most other desegregation suits, Mr. Marko said, the case was not a class action on the behalf of all 37,000 black children in the 132,000-student district.

Mr. Marko said the parents alleged that the district was becoming increasingly segregated, with blacks concentrated in older facilities, and whites in newer buildings.

The lawyer said the settlement requires the school board to achieve greater integration through the use of magnet schools and other voluntary methods. It also stipulates that blacks and whites equally share the burden of desegregation; establishes a biracial citizens’ committee to review student-assignment policies; requires the board to adopt affirmative-action policies on faculty hiring, assignment, and promotion; and commits the board to conducting more business with minority-owned firms.

The tiny elementary school in Antler, N.D., is closing its doors, six years after a farmer offered free land to families in an effort to attract enough students to keep the school open.

The three-room Antler Grade School would have had only 12 students next fall, 9 fewer than the current enrollment, the local school board said last month in recommending that the district be dissolved.

Instead, under a plan approved by the state board of public school education, students will be split among three neighboring districts in the north-central part of the state.

According to district officials, local taxpayers could not afford to spend $150,000 a year to keep the school open and pay a total of $52,000 in tuition to send junior- and senior-high-school students to neighboring districts.

The story of the Antler school attracted national attention in the early 1980’s, when a local farmer tried to keep the school open by offering nine acres of free land to each family that would move to the town.

Six families, with a total of more than 20 children, took him up on the offer and moved to Antler, a town of about 100 people in Bottineau County near the Canadian border.

Only one family stayed, however. One of the offer’s stipulations was that the families remain on their homesteads for at least five years.

The Philadelphia school district should seek a five-year waiver of federal regulations governing education programs for disadvantaged students, a district task force on regulatory reform has recommended.

The task force, which was appointed in September 1985 by the city’s superintendent of schools, Constance E. Clayton, recommended that, if a waiver could be obtained, the city’s board of education use federal and state dollars to design its own programs for “at risk’’ students.

Federal regulations often inhibit school officials from best serving the children for whom federal programs are intended, members of the task force argued.

So far, the panel has completed a study of the district’s Chapter 1 compensatory-education program; it also plans to review and issue reports on vocational, early-childhood, and special-education programs.

Ms. Clayton directed the task force “to examine administrative and judicial regulations, and identify regulations that inhibit educationally sound decisionmaking,’' according to Bernard Kelner, chairman of the group.

On the Chapter 1 program, the panel recommended, among other changes, that eligibility requirements be widened and that matching-fund requirements be eliminated, Mr. Kelner said.

A federal district judge has approved a settlement requiring the Pasadena, Tex., school board to provide more than $500,000 in back pay and benefits to blacks who had been denied teaching positions because of their race.

The May 19 agreement also requires the board to adopt nondiscriminatory policies on teacher recruitment and hiring and, in some instances, to offer jobs and retroactive seniority to blacks who were passed over for teaching posts in the past.

The U.S. Justice Department filed suit against the district in 1983,charging that its policies violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race.

During a four-week trial that began in January, lawyers for the federal government presented statistics indicating that the board had hired only 30 black teachers between 1977 and 1984. If the board had hired blacks at a rate proportionate to their presence in the district’s labor pool for teachers, the government said, the number should have been closer to 75.

U.S. District Judge James DeAnda found the district guilty of discrimination in a decision handed down on April 18. The settlement approved this month supplements the permanent injunction against job bias against blacks that he issued at the time of his decision.

Under the judge’s orders and the agreement, the Pasadena board must set aside $537,000 to provide back pay and other damages to blacks who were denied teaching positions. It is also required to recruit teachers from Texas Southern University, a predominantly black institution, and to report twice annually to the court over the next five years on its progress.

A version of this article appeared in the June 03, 1987 edition of Education Week as District News Roundup