News in Brief: A National Roundup

April 23, 1997 6 min read

Author of Ebonics Policy Quits Post in Oakland

The general counsel for the Oakland, Calif., schools, who drafted the districts controversial resolution on “ebonics,” has announced his resignation.

Steve Royston, who has served as the 52,300-student district’s chief lawyer for roughly a year and a half, did not return phone calls last week. The Oakland Tribune reported that when he was asked whether his departure was related to the ebonics issue, he responded: “You can say,” and after a pause said, “No comment.”

District officials did not ask for his resignation, which takes effect June 30, district spokeswoman Sherri Willis said.

At the school board’s direction, Mr. Royston drafted a resolution that deemed many of the district’s African-American students to be speakers of a language distinct from English and called for them to be taught in their primary language. School board members adopted the resolution Dec. 18 but later revised parts of it. (“‘Ebonics’ Vote Puts Oakland In Maelstrom,” Jan. 15 and “Oakland Board Revises ‘Ebonics’ Resolution,” Jan. 22, 1997.)

NSF Cuts Denver Grant

The National Science Foundation has decided to cut short a five-year, $2.5 million grant to the Denver public schools to improve minority student achievement in math and science. Now in the third year of the project, Denver may lose as much as $1 million in grant money.

The Minority Initiative for Denver Schools focused too much on summer and after-school enrichment activities and not enough on beefing up the math and science curriculum and on teacher training, according to a March 19 letter from Roosevelt Calbert of the NSF to Irv Moskowitz, Denver’s schools superintendent.

Mark Stevens, a spokesman for the district, said the letter “came as a shock.” Denver officials had been pursuing enrichment activities with the federal agency’s blessing and are planning to increase high school graduation requirements in math and science, he said.

Judge Rebukes Finance Panel

A watchdog panel for the East St. Louis, Ill., schools overstepped its power when it hired an outside accounting firm to run the district’s business office, a circuit court judge has ruled.

The state board of education appointed the three-member panel in 1994 to address the 13,000-student district’s financial problems. The district’s school board and employees’ union sued the panel the following year when it replaced the business staff with an accounting firm.

St. Clair County Associate Judge Robert Craig said April 11 that the panel’s action had exceeded its authority. The panel’s chairman, Richard J. Mark, said last week that the panel will appeal the ruling.

District Takes Buses Back

Following months of parent complaints, the Salt Lake City school board has voted unanimously to take back its busing service from a private company.

The seven-member board early this month decided to opt out of its five-year contract with Tran Spec Contract Busing after only one year. District officials say Tran Spec’s service has been plagued with problems, especially late and no-show special education buses.

Officials with the company, which is owned by Bennett and Bennett Inc. of Hanley Falls, Minn., acknowledge problems at the beginning of the year, but say they have been corrected.

With the private company, school officials expected to save up to a quarter of the roughly $2 million that the 25,000-student district spends annually on busing.

Candid Camera Busts Workers

The Indianapolis school district has fired five Northwest High School custodians and demoted another after a hidden camera in the employee lounge revealed them taking extended naps, watching movies, and playing cards while on duty.

Superintendent Esperanza Zendejas said last week that she ordered the camera to be used because the custodians were requesting more overtime pay than their counterparts at other district schools, and they still weren’t getting their work done.

Hidden cameras were placed in the school’s employee lounge, loading area, and the head custodian’s office between mid-February and early this month.

The district did not release the names of the custodians who were punished. Two are appealing their dismissals.

Sex in D.C. School Alleged

District of Columbia school officials are investigating allegations that nine 4th graders engaged in sexual activity while left unsupervised in an empty classroom.

Retired Lt. Gen. Julius W. Becton Jr., the school district’s chief executive, said last week that the students’ teacher at Winston Education Center, Charles Mayo, and the school’s principal, Ronald Parker, will be disciplined. Loretta Hardge, the district’s communication director, would not describe the disciplinary actions, and Mr. Mayo and Mr. Parker could not be reached for comment.

Ms. Hardge said school officials are looking into why the nine girls and boys were unsupervised. She said police also are investigating the April 7 incident.

Indicted N.J. Official Defeated

A Camden, N.J., school board member who sought re-election despite her indictment on charges of defrauding the district got the heave-ho from voters last week.

Elaine A. Bey, a former president of the nine-member board, came in 10th in a field of 15 candidates who were vying for three seats, a district official said.

Ms. Bey was indicted in November by a federal grand jury on charges of misspending about $33,000 over seven years on food, hotel accommodations, liquor, and other personal expenses. She has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

Jose E. Delgado Jr., last week’s top vote-getter, was the only incumbent to win re-election in the 20,000-student district, as Ms. Bey and board member Stacy Johnson lost their seats to newcomers Gilbert Shepherd and Martha Wilson.

Ga. Prepares for 2000

The “millennium bug” may not bite Georgia school districts as hard now that the state education department has decided to give them new fund-accounting software that is free from the computer glitch involving information dated the year 2000 or later.

The state initially had planned to address the problem by modifying its decade-old financial-software package, which most Georgia districts and schools use to run their general ledgers. (“Districts Worry Year 2000 Glitch May Do a Number on Software,” Sept. 25, 1996.)

But correcting thousands of lines of computer code and performing other basic upgrades would have cost more than $1.3 million, said Oscar Perry, the department’s associate superintendent of technology. The new software, for which the state is soliciting bids, will have many new features, he said.

Teacher of the Year Named

Sharon M. Draper, a literature and composition teacher at Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati, has been named the 1997 National Teacher of the Year.

Ms. Draper began her career in education in 1970 and was among the first group of teachers to be certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. She has spent the past 25 years working in Cincinnati’s public school system.

Ms. Draper was honored at a White House ceremony last week. When this school year ends, she will serve for one year as a spokeswoman for education.

The teacher-recognition program is sponsored by the Washington-based Council of Chief State School Officers and New York City-based Scholastic Inc.

Conn. Principal, Board Settle

A Connecticut school board has released the terms of a settlement it reached with an elementary school principal who is leaving the district following a test-tampering scandal.

The Fairfield school board agreed last month to pay Principal Roger Previs of Stratfield Elementary School $150,000, on top of the severance and retirement benefits he will receive upon leaving the district in July. The principal announced his retirement in February after an investigation concluded that standardized tests from the school had been tampered with. (“Whodunit?,” Oct. 2, 1996.)

The board did not say Mr. Previs had done the tampering, but announced it would begin termination hearings against him.

Message in a Balloon

Elementary school students in Beaumont, Calif., released more than 1,000 flier-bearing helium balloons this month as part of an effort to find 10-year-old classmate Anthony Martinez. The fliers include a description of the boy, who was abducted near his home April 4 by a knife-wielding stranger.