News in Brief: A National Roundup

October 03, 2001 6 min read
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Poverty Rate Declines, Census Bureau Reports

Poverty in the United States declined in 2000 to match the record low set in 1973, the U.S. Census Bureau reported last week, although children were most likely of any group to be poor.

The real median-household income of $42,148 did not change from the 1999 level, the highest ever reported, the bureau said.

The poverty rate in 2000 was 11.3 percent, down from 11.9 percent in 1999. The total number of poor people in the nation in 2000 stood at 31.1 million, the bureau estimates.

In addition, the poverty rate for people under age 18 reached 16.2 percent—its third consecutive drop and the lowest rate since 1979. Despite the drop, children and teenagers had a higher poverty rate than any other group.

—Ann Bradley

Reporter’s Arrest Leads To Community Service

A newspaper reporter has been ordered to perform community service as part of a plea agreement stemming from her arrest on trespassing charges at a Virginia high school where she was trying to interview the principal.

Kelly Campbell, a former reporter with the Potomac News and Manassas Journal Messenger, said she went to Woodbridge High School on June 6 to work on a story about a biology lesson. The lesson, which some wildlife experts reportedly had expressed concerns about, involved attempts to get ducklings to “imprint” themselves on students so the birds would follow the children as they normally would their mothers.

After a brief interchange, Principal Karen Spillman asked Ms. Campbell to leave, and she was arrested for trespassing by a police officer assigned to the school. The journalist—who now works for a newspaper in New Jersey—disputes the claim by officials of the 55,000-student Prince William County district that she had refused to go.

A Prince William County district court judge accepted Ms. Campbell’s plea of not guilty on Sept. 14, when she also agreed that the evidence presented against her at a trial would likely result in her losing the case. As part of a deal that allows her to escape a record, the reporter has pledged to perform 50 hours of community service within the next 12 months.

—Jeff Archer

Former Miami Board Member Pleads Guilty to Charges

A former member of the Miami-Dade County school board and the owner of a chain of private schools has pleaded guilty to federal charges that include defrauding a federal rent-subsidy program of $20,000. He also admitted guilt on charges of covering up a crime and perjury.

Under the plea agreement announced last week by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Demetrio Pérez Jr. must pay $211,395 in restitution to a former tenant and $12,000 to local police for the cost of their investigation. Mr. Pérez, 56, must spend 10 months under house arrest.

Last spring, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush suspended Mr. Pérez from the board of the 361,000-student district after a federal grand jury in Miami indicted him on felony charges of mail fraud and making false statements. With his guilty plea, he forfeits his right to public office. He had served on the board since 1996.

Mr. Pérez owns a four-unit apartment building in Miami; two tenants alleged that he charged them illegal payments in addition to their subsidized rent over a period of several years.

He also owns the Lincoln- Marti private schools.

—Andrew Trotter

Mother Who Disrupted School To Do Community Service

A parent of a kindergartner at the 360-student Marissa Elementary School in Marissa, Ill., has been ordered to perform 20 days of community service after causing a disturbance at the school’s breakfast program.

The student’s mother was arrested in May for criminal trespass after displaying what was deemed “inappropriate behavior” on school grounds, including having her son sit on her lap during the meal.

Superintendent Larry Hanna of the Marissa school district and Principal Kevin Cogdill had warned the parent on two separate occasions, both verbally and in writing, not to behave in a disruptive manner while at the school. When she refused to comply, she was arrested.

Associate Judge Walter C. Brandon on Sept. 19 also placed the woman under 60 days of court supervision, said Chief of Police Michael Kerperien.

—Marianne Hurst

Substitute Reinstated in Flap Over Reference to bin Laden

The Pittsburgh school district suspended a substitute teacher for a day after another teacher saw the words “bin Laden did us a favor” written on a scrap of paper in the substitute’s possession, an apparent reference to suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

John Gardner was reinstated the following day, Sept. 21, after a meeting with officials from the district’s human-resources department, said Patricia Crawford, a spokeswoman for the 39,000-student district

Mr. Gardner, who has been a substitute teacher on a day-to-day basis for the past five years, said the words were part of the larger phrase—"Osama bin Laden did us a favor. He galvanized us as a country, awakened us, and strengthened our resolve"—that the other teacher did not see.

He said he was compiling quotes for a book he has been writing about positive outcomes from negative situations.

The Pittsburgh chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to file a lawsuit against the district on Mr. Gardener’s behalf before the matter was resolved.

—Michelle Galley

Grand Jury Scrutinizes San Francisco District

The San Francisco school district has turned over personnel and financial records to a federal grand jury investigating possible fraud and kickbacks connected to the district’s $48 million federal “education rate” telecommunications grant, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The inquiry reportedly stems from investigations by the FBI and the U.S. attorney for San Francisco into how millions of dollars in voter-approved bond funds for new facilities and renovations have been used and whether criminal wrongdoing occurred. (“San Francisco School Spending Investigated,” May 30, 2001.)

David Campos, a deputy city attorney who represents the schools, said the district had received a grand jury subpoena. He said that Superintendent Arlene Ackerman had asked the FBI to look into the E-rate-financed project slated for 2001, but he declined to comment further. Ms. Ackerman canceled the project in April, citing its poor design and high cost to the 60,000-student district.

Last month, she announced that the district had corrected flaws in policies, procedures, and staffing that led to the problems, which school officials said occurred before Ms. Ackerman’s arrival in August 2000.

—Andrew Trotter

Five Kansas City, Mo., Schools Deemed Failing by State

Five schools in the beleaguered Kansas City school district have become the first in the state to be declared academically deficient by the Missouri board of education.

The three high schools and two middle schools were designated for their inadequacies by the board on Sept. 20, based on student performance on state standardized tests.

The schools will be expected to work with state management teams to craft turnaround plans. If the state finds that the schools have failed to improve sufficiently after two years, the law empowers the city school board to take such extraordinary steps as revoking the tenure of all staff members and restaffing the schools, said Orlo G. Shroyer, the deputy commissioner of the state education department.

The move by the state comes as the 30,000-student district is working against a June 2002 deadline to regain the accreditation it lost in 1999, or face a takeover by the state.

District officials called the state action a “wake-up call.”

—Caroline Hendrie


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