District News Roundup

April 10, 1991 6 min read

Mayor Xavier L. Suarez of Miami joined other Hispanic citizens and black voters last month in suing the Dade County school district and local electoral officials to challenge at-large school-board elections.

Filed in U.S. District Court, the suit seeks to replace at-large elections with a system employing single-member districts, said Stephen M. Cody, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

The board now has one black member, its chairman, and one Hispanic member.

The suit alleges that the use of at-large elections, staggered terms of office, and the current method of holding primary-election runoffs have the effect of “diluting minority voting strength and preventing black and Hispanic voters from electing representatives of their choice.”

In a response filed last week, the school board denied the allegations.

Phyllis O. Douglas, a lawyer for the school board, explained that, under the existing system, five board members must each live in a particular district, but that they are elected by the entire electorate on an at-large basis. Two others run at-large with no residential restrictions.

Currently, the five members from residential districts “don’t really represent the district,” Ms. Douglas said. “They represent all of Dade County.”

As of last week, no date for a hearing had been set.

A pregnant New York City high-school student was arrested late last month after refusing to comply with the school’s daily metal-detector search procedure.

On March 21, Sarita Chance, a 16-year-old student at the High School of Graphic Communications in Manhattan, was indicted on charges of third-degree assault and resisting arrest for evading a daily mandatory search by a hand-held metal detector. If convicted, she faces up to a year in prison.

The teenager refused to submit to the screening because she feared the device might harm her unborn child.

Frank Sabrino, a spokesman for Schools Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez, maintains that Ms. Chance was offered a personal search instead, but refused and ran to the second floor when security guards began to escort her out of the building.

Donna Lieberman, associate director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Ms. Chance, claims that her client was not given that option, and that the search policy was unclear to students. Last school year, pregnant students were automatically excluded from the program; this year, all students are required to take part.

The search system, which has been instituted in 12 high schools in the city, is both “effective and supported by the community,” Mr. Sabrino said.

A hearing in the case has been set for April 17.

After two decades of decline or sluggish growth in enrollment, the New York City public schools are experiencing an unexpected influx of nearly 18,000 students.

The increase--nearly twice what school planners had predicted for this school 6 year--was documented in figures released by the board of education last month.

The nearly 2 percent boost in enrollment was attributed to a new wave of immigration that planners now predict will intensify in coming years, possibly bringing the city’s school population to more than a million students by the year 2000.

Enrollment has been below that watermark since 1977. In recent years, growth has rarely exceeded one-half a percentage point.

The influx has raised concerns that class sizes will be pushed beyond their mandated 25-pupil maximum. Teachers already have been hired for or reshuffled to the hardest hit areas, but with the board preparing for large budget cuts, officials noted, new teachers will be hard to come by.

Moreover, the $4.3 billion in capital expenses slated through the 1993-94 school year is based on projections completed years ago, officials said, before the latest enrollment surge.

The Ohio State Controlling Board has agreed to back the financially troubled Cincinnati public schools for a $27.1-million loan, the largest ever for a district in Ohio.

The board agreed to back the loan by the Fifth Third Bank of Cincinnati last month. The state will deduct the loan payments from state school-aid funds allocated to the district.

A spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education said the 51,000-student Cincinnati district has agreed to cut spending to reduce its deficit. The district’s budget had been strained, officials said, by the defeat of a 7.2-mill tax levy in November 1990 and the fact that no new property taxes had been approved by voters there since 1987.

A $20-million loan to the Cleveland public schools in 1982 was the largest previously given to an Ohio district.

Oklahoma’s state board of education late last month placed on probation the superintendent of the Oaks-Mission school district, which, officials have said, has overspent its budget by thousands of dollars in recent years.

The board placed Bruce Davis on two years’ probation, according to Jon Dahlander, a spokesman for the board.

The state’s superintendent of public instruction and head of the board, Sandy Garrett, recommended probation--rather than certificate revocation--in part because Mr. Davis was not a certified superintendent when some of the alleged mismanagement occurred.

As a formality, the board also revoked the certificate of the district’s former superintendent, Alfred J. Forrest, who had already surrendered his administrator’s certificate to the board, Mr. Dahlander said.

Mr. Forrest was indicted in January by a grand jury on two counts of embezzlement and one count of obtaining money by false pretense in connection with the alleged mishandling of the district’s finances. Mr. Davis was not named in the indictment.

Oaks-Mission officials are accused of overspending the district’s budget by as much as $400,000 over several years, with $248,000 of that debt still outstanding, Mr. Dahlander said.

Eleven school districts in southern Westchester County, N.Y., have agreed to share the responsibility for educating the county’s homeless children.

Under the agreement, called the regional placement plan, districts that have relatively few homeless children have agreed to accept about two homeless children per school building.

The state will pay for the cost of transporting the children, said Kathleen Peters-Durrigan, the coordinator of the homeless-student project for the southern Westchester Board of Cooperative Educational Services, a network created by the state to help local districts.

Ms. Peters-Durrigan said about 450 school-age children from the county live in temporary housing outside of their home districts. State law allows these children to attend school in the district of their permanent or current residence.

Westchester County, Ms. Peters-Durrigan said, is the first in the state to take advantage of a law that permits regional placement plans.

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A former Long Island, N.Y., school-bus driver pleaded guilty last week to raping and sodomizing 16 kindergartners who rode his bus every day.

Robert Izzo, 41, of Hicksville, N.Y., pleaded guilty in Nassau County Court to 11 counts of rape, 20 counts of sodomy, and 7 counts of sex abuse in connection with incidents that occurred in the Hicksville Union Free School District during the 1988-89 school year, said Maureen Riordan, chief of the sex-crimes unit of the Nassau County district attorney’s office.

Mr. Izzo, who has not been a school-bus driver since 1989, abused the kindergartners on the bus during his regular route, sometimes stopping the bus in a remote area of a shopping-mall parking lot, said Ed Grilli, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office.

Two months ago, another school-bus driver, Anders Quintano, pleaded guilty to aiding Mr. Izzo by driving the bus while Mr. Izzo molested the children, Mr. Grilli said. Both men are awaiting sentencing.

The incidents came to light about the same time as charges that Mr. Izzo had molested three Boy Scouts in the troop he led as well as a fourth boy, all ages 10 to 12, between 1986 and 1988, Ms. Riordan said. Mr. Izzo was convicted in February on 35 sex-abuse counts in connection with that case.

School officials could not be reached for comment.

A version of this article appeared in the April 10, 1991 edition of Education Week as District News Roundup