News in Brief: A National Roundup

April 02, 2003 7 min read
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Minn. District Sets Payout For Departing Schools Chief

A Minnesota superintendent whose hefty severance package sparked debate has signed off on an agreement that will pay him less than originally estimated.

School board members in the 28,100-student Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district said in February that outgoing Superintendent John T. Haro was entitled to severance payments totaling more than $350,000. Most of the money was to be paid for unused sick leave and vacation days, which the board allowed Mr. Haro to accrue as a way to offset the effects of a now-defunct state rule that had capped superintendents’ salaries when he was hired in 1993. (“Payout Prompts Review of Minn. School Chiefs’ Contracts,” March 12, 2003.)

News of the figure prompted calls for greater scrutiny of superintendents’ contracts, including an ongoing review of Mr. Haro’s job agreement by the Minnesota state auditor.

In the meantime, Mr. Haro and the school board have agreed to a new payout that amounts to $237,000. The change reflects new calculations of the amount of leave time he accrued, and of the daily rate at which it should be credited. The agreement also moved his departure up to the end of last month from the end of this school year.

Mr. Haro, who has accepted the superintendency of the 70,000-student Fulton County, Ga., district, will not comment on the deal, said a spokesman for the Rosemount- Apple Valley-Eagan schools.

—Jeff Archer

Florida District Considers Ban on Pajamas in Schools

The school board in the 15,000-student Citrus County district in Inverness, Fla., will soon be asked to considered a dress code clause that would prevent high school students from wearing pajamas to school.

The new fashion trend, which has been emerging in some schools nationwide, was identified as a “potential area of concern” when students attending three local high schools began showing up for class wearing drawstring flannel bottoms, blankets, and house slippers.

In response, the district’s committee on the student code of conduct proposed a revision to the district’s dress code stating that “blankets used for jackets and sleepwear are not permitted.”

District officials don’t have any figures on how many students actually wear sleepwear in school. But Renna S. Jablonskis, the director of student services, said clothing resembling pajamas was inappropriate and could be potentially disruptive. Officials also have safety concerns, she said, especially when students wear blankets that drag on the ground.

The school board is scheduled to vote on the proposal in May and, if enacted, the updated dress code will go into effect next year.

—Marianne D. Hurst

D.C. Teachers’ Union Official Is Placed on Paid Leave

After months of complaints by members, the vice president of the Washington Teachers’ Union, in the nation’s capital, has been placed on administrative leave with pay.

Esther S. Hankerson had served for many years under former union President Barbara A. Bullock. She became the interim president of the union after Ms. Bullock resigned last September, as allegations of misspent union funds surfaced. Ms. Hankerson was relieved of her duties last month.

In January, the American Federation of Teachers released an audit of its District of Columbia affiliate that revealed that roughly $5 million in union money could have been embezzled or improperly spent.

Federal investigators are continuing to review the case. An FBI affidavit filed in December did not accuse Ms. Hankerson of misspending union money, but some members said she should be removed because she should have been aware of the alleged financial improprieties.

The AFT appointed George C. Springer as the administrator of the 5,000-member local union in January. (“Union Local Loses Control of Operations,” Jan. 29, 2003.)

—Karla Scoon Reid

California Men Are Charged With Killing School’s Sheep

Two California men have been charged with animal cruelty after allegedly killing one sheep and severely injuring another in a Sacramento-area high school’s agricultural program.

The suspects were arrested shortly after police officers saw them leaving Casa Roble Fundamental High School in Orangevale, Calif., around midnight on March 22.

Police suspect that the men broke into the high school in a burglary attempt, but say they don’t know why the two beat the sheep with a pitchfork, according to Sharon Chow, a spokeswoman for the Sacramento County sheriff’s department.

Two students had raised the sheep from birth and planned to enter them in the Sacramento County fair next month, according to William L. Hooper, the principal of the 1,800-student high school.

One student whose sheep died in the attack has found another animal to enter in the fair. The other sheep suffered severe lung injuries and may need to be euthanized, Mr. Hooper said.

The two men also were charged with burglary and vandalism, Ms. Chow said.

—David J. Hoff

Ohio 8th Graders Are Accused Of Plot to Set Up School ‘Mob’

Law-enforcement officers in Summit County, Ohio, have busted the organizers of a would-be local mob—two 14-year-old 8th graders.

With the arrests, police ended what they allege was a plot by the students to make money through prostitution, computer hacking, and candy sales.

The boy who called himself the mastermind of the Nordonia Middle School Mafia had exhaustively researched crime organizations at the library and on the Internet to devise his plan, police said.

Calling himself “the boss,” he recruited 11 other students who each paid him a $100 initiation fee. The members would have been assigned money-making crimes, paying 25 percent to “the boss,” police said.

“If only he had spent as much time doing his homework as he did researching the mob,” said Capt. Lawrence J. Momchilov of the Summit County sheriff’s office.

The other boy arrested, described as “the hacker,” was assigned to break into the school’s computer system and change the boss’s grades, according to police. He was also in charge of hacking into the school’s lunch-account system, they said, to make sure the boss’s account was full.

Capt. Momchilov said the plot was discovered when a school employee found the details in a paper that fell out of one of the member’s backpacks.

The boy identified as the ringleader faces a felony charge of “inducing panic"; the hacker faces a misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief. Both have been suspended from the school in the 3,700-student Nordonia Hills City School District. None of the other students has been arrested.

—Lisa Fine Goldstein

Influential Thinker Moynihan Dies at 76

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the statesman, social scientist, presidential adviser, and four-term Democratic U.S. senator from New York, died March 26 in a Washington hospital. He was 76 and had suffered complications from a ruptured appendix.

Over more than four decades of public service, Mr. Moynihan influenced policy on a multitude of subjects, ranging from the architecture of federal buildings to car safety. Education and racial and economic inequality, however, were always prominent in his sphere of influence.

Mr. Moynihan, who spent much of his own childhood in poverty, drew national attention for his 1965 report “The Negro Family: A Case for Action.” The study, calling attention to high percentages of African-American children being born out of wedlock, was lambasted at the time for seeming to blame the victims of poverty. Like many of his ideas, the findings were later considered prescient.

During a stint as a professor of education and urban politics at Harvard University’s graduate school of education, Mr. Moynihan spearheaded a two-year-long reanalysis of the federal report “Equality of Educational Opportunity,” by James S. Coleman. Almost ignored upon its release in 1966, the landmark report suggested that social class was a bigger predictor of academic achievement than educational resources.

Mr. Moynihan’s project lent credibility to the Coleman Report’s findings, while at the same time raising new questions and helping to forge the careers of a generation of influential educators.

“He was a man who always had somewhat of a different angle on something that we thought was a familiar and predictable problem,” recalled Theodore R. Sizer, who was the dean of Harvard’s education school at the time.

Known for his rhetorical flourishes, Mr. Moynihan, as a senator, also was quoted as comparing the national education goals that originated with the first President Bush and the nation’s governors to Soviet grain-production goals.

He criticized Democratic leaders in equal measure, calling the 1996 welfare overhaul signed by President Clinton, for example, the “most brutal piece of social policy since Reconstruction.” Mr. Moynihan was an early booster and architect of federal welfare programs.

Mr. Moynihan worked in influential positions in the federal government during the administrations of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford. Among his other posts, he served as U.S. ambassador to India and to the United Nations.

—Debra Viadero

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