News in Brief

November 05, 2003 6 min read
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Donors Will Underwrite N.Y.C. Charter Schools

New York City officials announced plans last week to open as many as 50 charter schools with private donations.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein said at a news conference on Oct. 30 that the city’s department of education, in partnership with members of the private and nonprofit communities, would set up a nonprofit corporation that would use money from foundations and other sources to open and run the schools over the next five years.

The city’s move represents an unusual approach to the charter school concept. Typically, charter schools, which are free from many district regulations, are operated using local district money.

Creation of the charter schools, which officials said would span the K-12 grade range, is part of a plan by the mayor and the chancellor to start 200 new smaller schools in the city. Foundations and individuals have already committed $40 million to the effort, more than half of what will be needed for the five-year plan, City Hall officials said.

The new Center for Charter Excellence will attempt to attract new charter school founders, support ongoing charter schools, and form a network of such schools in the city.

Mayor Bloomberg said in a statement that he would advocate, at the state level, changes in law that would make it easier to open and operate charter schools.

—Catherine Gewertz

Minn. ‘Lunch Ladies’ Win $95 Million Lottery Jackpot

Millionaires were cooking in the kitchens of the Holdingford, Minn., school district last week. Fifteen millionaires, to be exact.

A 16th millionaire was performing custodial duties.

They weren’t always rich. The lunch ladies and janitor, who together call themselves the “Happy Huskers” after the district’s mascot, woke up on the morning of Sunday, Oct. 26, to discover that they collectively held a lottery ticket worth $95 million.

Despite their newfound wealth, members of the group reported to work as usual the next morning, said Roger Carlson, the superintendent of the 1,100-student district in central Minnesota. “It couldn’t happen to a nicer group of people,” he said.

Though two of the winners announced intentions to retire last week, Mr. Carlson said the other 14 were sticking to the status quo for now. “They just continue to do their jobs,” he said.

The 16 employees had a long-standing practice of each contributing 25 cents from every paycheck for Powerball tickets. The oldest member of the group, Donna Lange, always posted the tickets on a school bulletin board before the drawings.

Ms. Lange told lottery officials that when she checked the winning numbers at home, she immediately called group member Karen Overman, the nutritional-services manager.

“At first, I didn’t believe her,” Ms. Overman said in a Minnesota State Lottery press release. “As I thought about it, I realized, ‘It’s 7 a.m. on Sunday morning and the clocks have been turned back. She’s serious about it.’”

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Student Switches Schools After Controversy Over Story

An honors student expelled from a Georgia high school last month for writing a fictional account of a school shooting returned to the school last week, only to be withdrawn by her parents a few days later.

Rachel Boim, a 9th grader at the 2,200-student Roswell High School in Fulton County, was suspended on Oct. 7 after an art teacher confiscated a notebook the girl was passing to other students.

The teacher read a story in the book that described a student’s dream about shooting a mathematics teacher. The teacher turned the notebook over to school administrators.

Ms. Boim was suspended for two weeks, and at a hearing on Oct. 22 she was expelled from Roswell High. But the decision left her free to attend any other school in the district.

Superintendent Michael Vanairsdale reinstated the student in Roswell High on Oct. 24, pending further review of the case, and she returned to classes on Oct. 27. The girl was so bothered by the media attention to her case, however, that her parents opted to withdraw her and enroll her in another district school on Oct. 30, said Susan Hale, a spokeswoman for the 71,000-student Fulton County district.

—Marianne D. Hurst

Los Angeles Unified Reports Drop in Student Enrollment

For the first time in 10 years, enrollment in the Los Angeles Unified School District has decreased.

This year’s K-12 enrollment of 727,554 is down 2,116 students from last year, in the first decrease since the 1993-94 school year, when the number of students dipped to 639,687 before beginning a decade of growth the next year.

Susan Cox, a spokeswoman for the district, cited the poor economy, a declining birthrate, increasing housing costs, and a rising number of parents who opt to home school their children as reasons for the enrollment decrease.

The drop could mean the loss of $46 million in state funding, she said.

Even with the dip in enrollment, many schools in the Los Angeles district, the second-largest school system in the country, are overcrowded. The district is in the process of building 80 new schools.

—Catherine A. Carroll

Ga. School District Cleared Of Data-Tampering Charges

Prosecutors say they’ve uncovered no proof of criminal wrongdoing in their probe of a Georgia school district that gave state officials vastly underreported data on student disciplinary actions.

In a letter to local school officials dated Oct. 20, Gwinnett County District Attorney Daniel J. Porter said he had completed his investigation of the 129,000-student Gwinnett County public schools.

He found that there was “insufficient evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt,” that district administrators had knowingly falsified the information.

The inquiry stemmed from news accounts last spring that the district had filed a state report for the 2001-02 school year that omitted tens of thousands of student disciplinary incidents. (“School Safety Reports Get a Closer Look in Ga.,” June 11, 2003.) New federal rules give parents the option of transferring their children out of schools with persistently poor safety records.

Gwinnett County district leaders have said the inaccurate data resulted from human error and technical glitches.

—Jeff Archer

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Superintendent Quits New Job To Return to Minnesota

John T. Haro, whose generous severance package turned heads when he left the superintendency of a Minnesota district earlier this year, has now stepped down as schools chief of the Georgia district that lured him away.

The school board of the 71,000-student Fulton County district accepted Mr. Haro’s resignation on Oct. 23, less than five months after he arrived there from Minnesota’s Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district.

When he left Minnesota, the 28,100-student system in suburban Minneapolis gave Mr. Haro $237,000, largely for unused sick and vacation days. The size of the payout prompted a review of superintendent contracts in Minnesota by the state auditor. (“Payout Prompts Review of Minn. School Chiefs’ Contracts,” March 12, 2003.)

Mr. Haro could not be reached for comment last week, but officials in Fulton County said his departure from there was due to family reasons. Since taking the job, he had been commuting between Georgia and Minnesota, where he has a son who is a senior in high school.

—Jeff Archer

Football Player Fatally Shot Outside His D.C. High School

A 16-year-old high school student was shot and killed last week as he was leaving his District of Columbia school after an afternoon homecoming dance.

The gunman approached Anacostia Senior High School, in Southeast Washington, at about 3:15 p.m. on Oct. 30. He fired his handgun and fled, fatally wounding Devin M. Fowlkes, local police said in a statement.

Police told The Washington Post that they had been on alert at the school because of friction between gangs. But they said they did not believe that Mr. Fowlkes, an 11th grader and varsity football player, was involved with gangs.

Two police officers were nearby when the shooting occurred. One chased a suspect, who got away. The other pursued a car that sped away from the scene and crashed into a tree.

Two teenagers in the car were questioned, but there was no evidence that they were involved, police said.

The school was closed on Oct. 31, and all homecoming- related events were postponed.

—Catherine Gewertz


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