News in Brief

March 10, 2004 6 min read
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Md. Governor Seeks Panel To Help Baltimore Schools

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of Maryland was expected to file legislation late last week that would propose a “school authority” to oversee the financially troubled Baltimore public schools.

The 90,000-student district faces a $58 million deficit in its $914 million budget and a cash-flow crisis which, if not addressed, could bankrupt the system by the end of the month.

An earlier offer from the Republican governor to help bail out the system with a $42 million loan fell through when Mr. Ehrlich rejected a plan from city school leaders that he said did not go far enough to ensure better fiscal management. (“Baltimore Bailout in Doubt; State Takeover on the Table,” March 3, 2004.)

While the governor is still working out the details of his bill, a spokesman for Mr. Ehrlich said last week that the school authority likely would be a panel of three to five people, appointed jointly by the governor and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley. The panel would assume temporary authority over the district’s finances.

Henry P. Fawell, a spokesman for the governor, said the plan for the school authority would need to be approved by the legislature before any state loan would be given to Baltimore’s schools.

—John Gehring

School Administrator Charged In Mich. Marijuana Incident

Months after a Michigan assistant principal allegedly tried to get a student expelled by planting marijuana in his locker, he himself was charged with possession of the drug.

Pat Conroy, then the assistant principal of the 750- student L.C. Mohr High School in South Haven, Mich., asked police last spring to check his school for drugs with a trained police dog, according to Tom B. Martin, the deputy chief of the South Haven Police Department. The police complied and didn’t find any drugs.

Then in January, Mr. Conroy, 53, allegedly questioned a police officer about why the dog hadn’t found drugs at his school, and he acknowledged that drugs had been present at the time of the investigation because he had put some in a particular student’s locker, Mr. Martin said.

Mr. Martin said that police then secured a search warrant for Mr. Conroy’s office. Police allegedly found less than an ounce of marijuana in the office.

Mr. Conroy told police that he had confiscated the marijuana from students, but Mr. Martin said that keeping drugs that have been taken from others is against the law.

Mr. Conroy, who could not be reached for comment, has been charged with possession of marijuana. A hearing on the matter was scheduled for this week.

The assistant principal resigned from his job on Feb. 20, according to the Herald-Palladium newspaper of St. Joseph, Mich. The superintendent of the 2,470-student South Haven school district could not be reached for comment last week.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Second Ga. District Faulted For Troubled School Board

The Glynn County public schools in Brunswick, Ga., could lose their accreditation, following an investigation that found that some school board members have overstepped their roles and interfered with administrative matters.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools has placed the 12,000-student district on probation for a year. The association placed the Clayton County, Ga., school district on probation last June for similar concerns over school board management. (“Board’s Conduct Threat to Ga. District,” Nov. 26, 2003.)

Mark Elgart, the executive director of the association, said the school board has become sharply divided, and relationships between board members and Superintendent Robert Winter have broken down.

The Glynn County school board’s agenda last week included plans to discuss the SACS report and begin taking steps to remove the system from probation, according to a district spokesman.

—John Gehring

Teacher Cites Paige’s Remarks In Turning Down Visit to Washington

Jeffrey R. Ryan, a history teacher at the 1,240-student Reading Memorial High School who was named the Massachusetts Teacher of the Year in 2003, declined an invitation to attend a conference in Washington last week because of recent union criticism by U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige.

In an e-mail to the federal Department of Education, Mr. Ryan said he could not attend a meeting of top teachers because of the secretary’s description of the National Education Association as a “terrorist organization.”

“I was profoundly offended,” Mr. Ryan said last week in an interview. “I thought the remark was crass and insensitive. Then when he said it was a joke, I thought, ‘It’s not funny, Mister Rod Paige.’”

Mr. Ryan added that he knew an individual who died in one of the planes that struck the World Trade Center in New York City in 2001.

The Education Department did not return a call for comment. Mr. Paige has twice apologized for his remark, which was made during a meeting with state governors. (“Furor Lingers Over Paige’s Union Remark,” March 3, 2004.)

—Marianne D. Hurst

S.C. District Hires Edison To Turn Around 9 Schools

Edison Schools Inc., the nation’s largest for-profit education-management company, has contracted with South Carolina’s 43,700-student Charleston County district to help turn around nine low-performing schools.

The school board unanimously approved a five-year, $11.1 million contract on Feb. 23 with the New York City-based private company.

The district is paying for Edison’s services with federal Title I money and state grants.

Starting this spring, Edison will train teachers, align curricula, and assess student achievement, among other responsibilities. District officials will retain control of the staff, budget, and curricula at the schools.

The schools involved are Baptist Hill High School; Brentwood, Rivers, and Schroder middle schools; and Sanders Clyde, Blaney, Ellington, Jane Edwards, and Minnie Hughes elementary schools.

—Rhea R. Borja

Voters in S.F. Approve Measure Boosting City Funding of Schools

San Francisco voters last week approved Proposition H, which will set up a city fund to increase spending on education.

The city, which already contributes about $8 million a year to the district, plans to contribute an additional $10 million from its general fund in 2005, and to gradually increase that amount to $60 million by 2009, The San Francisco Chronicle reported.

About a third of the money will be earmarked for school libraries, arts, and physical education, and a third for preschool for 4-year- olds. The rest would go toward a variety of classroom improvements.

—Catherine Gewertz

Chicago School Board Approves Tougher Accountability Rules

Almost half of Chicago’s public schools would be on probation this year under new, heightened accountability standards adopted by the school board.

Schools must show yearly progress and meet certain levels of academic achievement. Now, under a policy approved Feb. 25, those levels will increase by 10 to 15 percentage points for schools after this spring’s round of testing.

For example, the plan calls for an elementary school to be placed on probation if fewer than 40 percent—up from 25 percent—of its students fail to meet both the state standards and the national norms on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills.

The policy change could increase the number of schools under probation in the 439,000-student district from the current 82 to 293 next year, although officials expect the number to be lower. Such schools will be required to use their discretionary and supplemental education money to pay for a prescribed set of strategies to enhance academic achievement.

Deborah Lynch, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union, criticized the plan as “one-way accountability” that doesn’t help struggling schools and their teachers.

—Karla Scoon Reid

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