News in Brief: A National Roundup

April 09, 2003 7 min read
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National Charter Alliance Names Top Leadership

A new national association that aims to strengthen the charter school movement has chosen its top leaders.

The National Charter School Alliance, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, announced last week that Marc Dean Millot will serve as its first president and chief executive officer. Mr. Millot is the former president and founder of the Education Entrepreneurs Fund, the social-investment affiliate of New American Schools. He also served as the chief operating officer of NAS and as a Washington-based senior social scientist for the RAND Corp.

Howard L. Fuller, the director of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning, based at Marquette University in Milwaukee, and a former superintendent of the Milwaukee public schools, will chair the alliance’s 22-member board of directors.

The alliance’s goals are to be an advocate for charter schools on federal policy issues, to act as a credible voice nationally for the independent public schools, and to strengthen the organizational capacity of the charter school movement. The group plans to continue and expand on the work started by the Charter Friends National Network in Minnesota. (“Alliance Hopes to Serve as Voice for Charter Schools,” Nov. 13, 2002.)

—Ann Bradley

Charges Filed in Probe of Thefts From D.C. Teachers’ Union

Federal prosecutors in the District of Columbia filed criminal charges last week against a man they said was a central player in the alleged embezzlement of roughly $5 million from the Washington Teachers’ Union.

Michael M. Martin, 43, was charged with conspiracy to launder $487,000 in union money through a company set up for that purpose, according to court documents filed in a U.S. district court in Washington. He allegedly billed the union for services provided by a fictitious company, called Expressions Unlimited, and then returned some of the money to top union officials.

Mr. Martin’s lawyer did not return calls for comment. The charges are considered as “criminal information,” which is filed in felony cases only with the consent of the defendant and indicates that Mr. Martin may plead guilty.

Mr. Martin is one of a handful of union officials and their relatives who have been accused of pilfering the coffers of the 5,000-member union in a scheme that ran from 1995 until last fall. He served as former President Barbara A. Bullock’s stylist and is married to the daughter of Gwendolyn M. Hemphill, Ms. Bullock’s personal assistant.

Ms. Bullock, Ms. Hemphill, and former treasurer James O. Baxter have stepped down. Leroy Holmes, a chauffeur for the union, has pleaded guilty to charges in connection with the ongoing investigation.

The union’s parent organization, the Washington-based American Federation of Teachers, took control of the organization in January. (“Union Local Loses Control of Operations,” Jan. 29, 2003.)

—Julie Blair

Baltimore District, City Officials Cracking Down on School Fires

Baltimore school and fire department officials are taking steps to crack down on a rash of fires at Southwestern High School.

The school has accounted for more than half the fires in the 95,000-student district’s 172 schools over the past two months.

Twelve fires have been set in the hallways and restrooms of Southwestern since the beginning of the year, according to a spokesman for the city fire department. No one has been hurt in the fires, and most have been small. Still, officials say, the fires have been disruptive to the school and costly in manpower and money to the fire department.

District schools chief Carmen V. Russo has said she is committed to ending the fires and has been granted additional police at the school.

Fire officials, meanwhile, have assigned three officers to work primarily on the Southwestern High cases. They had arrested 16 students as of last month.

—Bess Keller

Ga. District Eliminates Funding For Motivational Speaker’s Job

School officials in DeKalb County, Ga., have decided not to renew a contract with Danny Buggs, a former National Football League player who has been a motivational speaker with the school system since 1982.

Mr. Buggs was suspended for three days without pay and ordered to complete diversity training after allegedly making anti-gay comments at a high school assembly last September. Public outcry was reignited after he appeared at a recent school board meeting protesting an amendment to the district’s harassment policy that would include sexual orientation.

Mary Stimmel, a spokeswoman for the 98,000-student district, said Mr. Buggs’ position was one of nearly 400 jobs the district expects to cut because of budget constraints. “If you’re looking to cut jobs,” she said, “you don’t want to cut teachers, so a motivational speaker would be among the first to go.”

Superintendent Johnny E. Brown last week proposed a $704.2 million budget for 2004. The final budget is scheduled to be approved May 12. Mr. Buggs was unavailable for comment.

—Marianne D. Hurst

Kansas City District Sets Aside Money for Student Incentives

The Kansas City, Mo., school board has approved a budget of $379,250 to allow individual schools to provide incentives for students to do well on state tests.

Each of the district’s 66 schools can devise its own plan to motivate students, including pizza parties, exemptions from wearing uniforms, and movie passes, said Edwin Birch, the 27,000-student district’s director of public information.

Superintendent Bernard Taylor Jr. met with groups of middle and high school students and their parents to devise the initiative, which seeks to raise students’ scores on Missouri Assessment Program tests. Mr. Birch stressed that schools would not directly pay students for earning good scores.

—Ann Bradley

N.M. Teachers Return to Work After Suspension for Anti-War Signs

Two teachers at Rio Grande High School in Albuquerque, N.M., have returned to work after being suspended for displaying anti-war signs in their classrooms. (“War Lessons Call for Delicate Balance,” March 26, 2003.)

English teacher Carmelita Roybal and art teacher Heather Duffy were reinstated effective April 1, a spokesman for the 85,000-student Albuquerque district said last week.

Meanwhile, two other teachers in the district were disciplined for similar displays in their classrooms.

One of those teachers at Highland High School has returned to work after agreeing to remove anti-war posters from his classroom. The other teacher still had not completed a required hearing with district officials as of late last week.

A school board policy committee is scheduled to discuss the district’s 20-year-old policy on teaching about controversial issues at its April 14 meeting. The policy requires teachers to present a range of views on such issues and to remove props and displays expressing opinions after a lesson is complete.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Dallas Board Votes to Create Armed School Police Force

The Dallas school district has decided to form its own armed police force, which will station officers in every middle and high school and patrol every elementary school in the 166,000-student system.

District trustees approved the plan to expand the existing security force by a vote of 7-2 on March 27.

The district now has a $900,000 contract with the Dallas Police Department, which supplies 27 certified police officers to the schools. Those officers, who are able to enforce the law but not district policies, are assigned a number of different schools to patrol, according to Manny Vasquez, the security chief for the district.

In addition, the district employs about 80 security guards who enforce district policies, such as dress codes, but not the law, he said. The new force will have 120 certified and armed police officers and 80 security officers.

The transition to the new force will take five years and cost about $1.5 million for additional salaries and equipment, Mr. Vasquez said.

—Michelle Galley

Maryland School District Hires Former Yonkers, N.Y., Chief

The school board in Prince George’s County, Md., voted 8-1 last week to hire Andre J. Hornsby as the 134,000-student district’s next superintendent.

Mr. Hornsby, 49, a former top administrator in the New York City schools and a former superintendent of the Yonkers, N.Y., district, will replace Iris T. Metts. Ms. Metts, whose contract expires in June, has led the suburban Washington district since 1999.

The board offered Mr. Hornsby a four-year contract that will pay him $250,000 a year. He also serves as the president of the National Alliance of Black School Educators.

—Ann Bradley

Seattle Superintendent Facing Two Employee Polls on Future

Superintendent Joseph Olchefske faced two districtwide no- confidence votes last week as anger over the Seattle public schools’ budget plight continued to fester.

Both the teachers’ union and the district principals’ association polled their members on whether they believed the schools chief should stay or go. Mr. Olchefske has been under fire since October, when he revealed that the district had overspent its budget by $22 million last year and was headed for a $12 million gap this year. The system’s annual budget is about $440 million. (“Budget Shortfall Fuels Dissension in Seattle Over Superintendent,” Nov. 13, 2002.)

Results announced last Friday by the Seattle Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, showed overwhelming support for Mr. Olchefske’s ouster. The Principals Association of Seattle Schools expects to announce its results next week.

A spokeswoman for the superintendent said he had no plans to leave.

—Jeff Archer


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