Districts News

February 13, 1991 3 min read

Leaders of the Boston University-Chelsea, Mass., schools partnership launched a new foundation last week to facilitate fund-raising for the highly touted collaborative and to spread the reform model beyond Chelsea.

The new organization--called A Different September Foundation--will solicit grants for the 10-year partnership, under which the university assumed governance of the troubled Chelsea school system in 1989.

Previously, the university handled all fund-raising, an arrangement that may have confused potential donors who wanted to support K-12 education reform, but not the university, said Michael Sandler, the foundation’s president. Because checks were made payable to Boston University, questions arose over the autonomy of the partnership program, he said.

After the 10-year Chelsea project ends, Mr. Sandler said, the foundation will continue to support K-12 education reform nationwide.

In a related development, Mayor Raymond L. Flynn of Boston this month commissioned Boston University’s president, John R. Silber, to undertake a sweeping study of the city’s embattled public schools. The decision came in spite of the Boston School Committee’s decision to reject Mr. Silber’s offer to evaluate the district.

A Kentucky cable-television firm has challenged the right of school districts to tax cable television as a local utility.

H. Foster Pettit, the lawyer for TeleCable of Lexington, said the firm filed a suit in county court last month against the five-member Fayette County school board. TeleCable objects to provisions of a 1990 school-reform package, enacted by the General Assembly, that allow school districts to extend to cable-television companies a 3 percent local tax on utilities. Although the taxing power is several years old, cable TV had not been included, Mr. Pettit said.

“Cable TV companies are First Amendment companies,” as are newspapers and broadcast-television stations, he said. “We’re not just like the water company. We’re not saying the law on the books is unconstitutional” but that its extension to cable TV is improper, he added. “It’s taxing a free-speech purveyor. It’s not equal protection.”

He said that he has also filed suit in Oldham County court against that county’s board of education on behalf of another cable firm.

An Oklahoma grand jury has indicted two former school-district officials on four criminal counts alleging mishandling of school finances.

In its action late last month, the panel also called for the removal of three of the five current school-board members in the Oaks-Mission district, and recommended that the state board of education take over operations of the the two-school district.

Alfred J. Forrest, the district’s former superintendent, faces two counts of embezzlement and one count of obtaining money by false pretense, said Peggy Earls of the Delaware County district attorney’s office.

Mr. Forrest and the district’s former deputy treasurer, Benny Seabourn, are also accused of one count each of conspiracy to misrepresent the true fiscal condition of the school district, Ms. Earls said.

Mr. Forrest and Mr. Seabourn are free on their own recognizance pending further court action.

The three board members--Jim Martin, Randy Russell, and James Hutchings--are accused of habitual neglect of duty and willful maladministration for allegedly not taking charge of poor spending practices and neglect by Oaks-Mission administrators, Ms. Earls said.

A Florida couple has agreed to settle their lawsuit against the Nassau County school board after it refused to order a 5th-grade teacher to stop reading Bible stories in class.

Under the settlement, announced late last month, the school board agreed to pay lawyer’s fees and up to $15,000 in damages to Donald and Louise Hatch.

The Hatches, with the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union, had filed the suit after the board declined to stop Martha Lee Mitchell, their daughter’s 5th-grade teacher, from reading Bible stories in her class at Emma Love Hardee Elementary School. It had been Mrs. Mitchell’s practice for 30 years to read stories at the beginning of the school day.

Last October, a federal district judge issued a preliminary injunction stopping the Bible story readings. The board had pledged to fight the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. But a constitutional-law expert told the board last month that it stood little chance of winning such a battle.

The settlement, as well as the board’s costs in the case, will be paid out of private funds raised by a local citizens’ group, officials said.

A version of this article appeared in the February 13, 1991 edition of Education Week as Districts News