News in Brief: A National Roundup

September 06, 2000 6 min read

Ex-Chief, Board Wage Legal Fight in Dallas

The tensions between the Dallas school board and Waldemar “Bill” Rojas, whom the board fired as superintendent this past summer, continued to unfold last month with both parties taking legal action against the other.

Mr. Rojas contends that his July 5 firing by the board on a 7-1 vote was a breach of his three- year contract, for which he was to have received an annual salary of $260,000. He has asked the Texas Education Agency to overturn the decision and the board’s $90,000 severance offer.

A five-day hearing in the case was scheduled to begin this week. Meanwhile, the Dallas board filed a lawsuit last month asking a state district court in Dallas to declare that the board’s decision was legal.

In firing Mr. Rojas, who was hired in August of 1999, the board cited a contract clause that required the former San Francisco schools chief to maintain good rapport with the school panel.

Dallas, which has 162,000 students, is now conducting its third superintendent search in four years.

—Robert C. Johnston

Rockford, Ill., Case To Continue

It looks as if the legal maneuvering in the long-running school desegregation case in Rockford, Ill., will continue.

A lawyer for the 27,000-student district in the northern part of the state said the school board would likely appeal last month’s decision by U.S. Magistrate P. Michael Mahoney to keep Rockford’s desegregation efforts under court oversight until 2006.

The district had sought a date sometime in 2002 to be released from the desegregation requirements, which stem from a 1989 lawsuit alleging that the district discriminated against black students.

While the ruling gives the district control over some operations such as transportation and discipline, the magistrate wrote that the board “cannot be fully trusted with the constitutional welfare of the minority students committed to its care.”

Advocates for minority students wanted the court to supervise the district for another 15 years.

—Robert C. Johnston

Edison Role in Baltimore Upheld

Three low-performing Baltimore elementary schools have started the academic year under the management of Edison Schools Inc., after a court last month upheld the state’s right to seize control of the schools from local officials and turn them over to a private contractor.

The decision by a Baltimore circuit court judge blocked an attempt by the Baltimore Teachers Union to prevent the deal between Edison and the state school board from moving forward. Sharon Blake, the president of the union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, promised an appeal.

Citing poor performance, the state board took over Gilmore, Montebello, and Furman L. Templeton elementary schools in February and chose the New York City-based Edison to operate them.

The teachers’ union filed suit in April, asking the court to declare that the city and state school boards could not put city schools under private management and to terminate the five-year contract with the for-profit company.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

ETS Invalidates Teacher Scores

The Educational Testing Service has invalidated the scores of 52 people suspected of paying a test-site proctor to give them additional time and assistance when they took a teacher-licensing exam—an alleged scheme that also has prompted a federal investigation.

The implicated test-takers include residents of Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee, although the alleged cheating took place in 1998 at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark., during an administration of the testing service’s PRAXIS exam. Each person allegedly paid approximately $1,000 to a Philander Smith employee who coordinated the ruse, said Tom Ewing, an ETS spokesman.

The testing service turned the case over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation after realizing that the accused cheaters were from more than one state. The bureau then carried out its own, yearlong undercover investigation, which could result in charges being filed against the alleged orchestrator of the scheme, Mr. Ewing said.

The person being accused, whom investigators would not yet identify, no longer works for Philander Smith. The college itself has not been implicated in the case.

—Jeff Archer

Chicago Changes Promotion Rule

Chicago teachers will help decide which students pass or fail a grade for the first time since the city established a strict new student-promotion policy in 1997.

A change approved unanimously by the school board on Aug. 23 will allow teachers to determine whether students in grades 3, 6, and 8 who fall short of passing the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills should be promoted. The board also increased promotion standards for the third consecutive year.

Starting this school year, teachers will evaluate students’ class grades, other test scores, attendance, and behavior. Based on those reviews, teachers can exempt students from attending summer school or from being retained for failing the test.

Of the 74,682 students who took the test last May, about a quarter attended summer school; 5,688 still failed to make the grade on the test.

Jeff Burdick, a district spokesman, said the change signaled the school system’s growing confidence in teachers’ knowledge of the district’s curriculum and standards.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Boys Town Gets New Name

Boys Town USA, the Nebraska-based program for troubled youths, has changed its name to reflect changed times: It is now called Boys and Girls Town.

The name change became official Aug. 24, when the program’s participants voted by a 2-1 ratio in favor of the change, spokeswoman Tracy Mueller said. The old name had been something of a misnomer for a long time, since the residential program has admitted girls since 1979. Between 40 percent and 50 percent of the program’s 33,000 participants are female, Ms. Mueller said.

The program, founded in 1917 by the Rev. Edward J. Flanagan as a place where homeless boys could get a new start in life, became world-famous through the 1938 film “Boys Town.”

While the national program will now be called Boys and Girls Town, the Omaha-based headquarters was incorporated as a town with its own post office and ZIP code, so its name will remain Boys Town, Ms. Mueller said.

—Catherine Gewertz

S.F. Drops HUD Housing Plan

The San Francisco school district intends to go ahead with a plan to build a low-cost rental-apartment complex for 43 teachers, but without what was touted as a groundbreaking partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Officials of the 67,000-student district unveiled the proposed project last spring as part of a larger effort to provide its teachers with affordable housing options. House prices and rental rates in the San Francisco Bay area have soared out of reach for many area teachers in recent years. (“San Francisco Schools To Build Housing for Teachers,” June 7, 2000).

The district had initially planned to take advantage of a loan guarantee from HUD’s Federal Housing Authority, which would have allowed it to secure money at a lower interest rate. But last week, the project’s planners said they found they could get as good a deal with a traditional backer.

They plan instead to work with HUD on other housing projects, such as a plan to build low-cost houses to be sold to teachers.

—Jeff Archer


Susan Loucks-Horsley, the associate executive director of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study in Colorado Springs, Colo., and a senior research associate at WestEd in Tucson, Ariz., died Aug. 8 from head injuries she sustained in a fall. She was 52.

Ms. Loucks-Horsley previously served as the director of professional development and outreach for the National Research Council’s Center for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering. She was the author of a book and numerous reports on professional development and teacher support from the National Center for Improving Science Education.

—Michelle Galley