News in Brief: A National Roundup

March 21, 2001 6 min read
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New York Raps Buffalo Teachers’ Union for Strike

For the first time in New York history, the state agency that mediated settlement talks between the 47,000-student Buffalo school district and the teachers’ union following a September strike imposed—then immediately lifted—a one-year suspension of the union’s “dues checkoff” policy, a penalty considered severe.

The policy allows the Buffalo Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the National Education Association, to automatically deduct members’ dues from their school paychecks, an effort that makes collecting the money easier, said Michael R. Cuevas, the chairman of the New York State Public Employee Relations Board.

The penalty, one of four imposed following a walkout by about 4,000 teachers last Sept. 7 and 14, was suspended, in part, because the district was perceived as provoking the strike, court documents indicate.

In the past, the state punished unions that carried out two-day strikes by suspending their dues- checkoff privileges for up to 12 months, court records state.

The union did comply with other penalties levied. Teachers lost two days’ pay, the union was fined $250,000, and the organization’s president, Philip Rumore, spent eight days in jail and was fined. Two other union officials also were fined. (“Buffalo, N.Y., Teachers Fined,” Nov. 22, 2000.)

—Julie Blair

District Takes Parent to Court

The Des Moines, Iowa, school district has taken a parent to court, claiming that for the past two years, the woman harassed and intimidated school officials regarding her children’s education.

District officials say Robin Moon, who has children at Roosevelt High School and Merrill Middle School in the 32,000-student district, has repeatedly visited the schools and complained about the education her children receive.

Papers filed two weeks ago in Polk County District Court by school district officials allege that Ms. Moon called Roosevelt High School 46 times in less than an hour on March 2.

Ms. Moon, who is African-American, contends that Des Moines school officials are racists. “I do tell them what I think,” she told The Des Moines Register. “They are adamant about black parents and black children staying in their place and not questioning anyone.”

Thomas Jeschke, the district’s executive director of student and family services, said several school officials have tried to work with Ms. Jones. He said the district went to court as a last resort and would ask a judge to set guidelines to govern communications between the district and Ms. Moon.

“It’s a very unusual case for us,” he said. “We just can’t have her disrupting classes.”

—John Gehring

Baltimore To Close 9 Schools

Baltimore’s school board voted last week to close nine neighborhood schools, reacting to the loss of more than 5,000 students over the past four years.

The 98,000-student district has enough classroom space for more than 130,000 students. Maryland state officials had urged the district to consider closing some schools to save money.

Some parents feared their children would walk to their new schools across a busy intersection or blighted neighborhood, but the board approved special bus transportation for those students.

At a public hearing, other parents questioned the closings because district officials have spoken publicly of building new schools in the coming years.

A consultant’s study predicted the district would save more than $100,000 a year for each school that is shuttered. A vote on the fate of three more schools was delayed.

—Alan Richard

Guaging Hispanics Educational Attainment

The education gap between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites has steadily narrowed at the high school level bus is widening at the post secondary level, the U.S. Census Bureau reports.

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, March 2000.

D.C. Administration Takes Shape

District of Columbia Superintendent Paul L. Vance last week appointed what he described as his “A-team” of education administrators, which included a former colleague and a former interim head of the Cleveland schools.

Mr. Vance, who was given a two-year contract to run the 72,000-student district in July, had been under pressure to fill the administrative posts.

Steven G. Seleznow will serve as the district’s chief of staff. He was a deputy superintendent of the Montgomery County, Md., schools when Mr. Vance was that district’s chief.

Mary H. Gill, who has been the school system’s acting chief academic officer since November, will take on the role permanently. Ms. Gill has been an educator with Washington’s public schools since 1968.

Louis J. Erste will be the system’s chief operating officer. Mr. Erste was the Cleveland district’s chief of staff and later the interim chief executive officer before being replaced by current schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

—Karla Scoon Reid.

End of Busing Is Challenged

A civil rights group that filed the desegregation lawsuit that led to 25 years of busing by the Dayton, Ohio, school district is opposing a motion by the school board and the state to lift the desegregation order and end busing.

Jessie Gooding, the president of the Dayton chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the city schools still have a long way to go to end discrimination.

“If you look at the statistical data, the progress black students has made is inadequate,” Mr. Gooding said. “I think if they come up with the right plan, it’s possible to fix things.”

School board President Ricky Boyd could not be reached for comment.

The state education department and the 20,000-student Dayton district tentatively agreed that the district would end desegregation, if the money it usually receives for busing could instead be used for capital improvements.

The state Controlling Board, an arm of the Office of Budget and Management, which approves loans and subsidies granted by the education department to local districts, approved that request and agreed to transfer $32 million over two years to be used for capital improvements.

“We would need more money to make sure the curriculum and other things are up to date,” Mr. Gooding said. “We will begin negotiating with the school board soon.”

Last month, the state and the school district filed a motion requesting that U.S. District Judge Walter Rice end busing. The motion said the district had eliminated discrimination against black students.

—Lisa Fine

Promotion Policy Questioned

A Chicago-based parent-advocacy group known as Parents United for Responsible Education has asked the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights to reopen an investigation into the Chicago school system’s student-promotion policies.

The group—which initially lodged a complaint with the OCR in 1999—asserts that the 432,000-student district has not produced a brochure adequately explaining that parents have the right to request a review of any decision to hold a student back. The creation of such a guide was called for in the district’s case-closing agreement with the OCR last September.

In addition, the advocacy group has asked the civil rights office to examine the district’s recently unveiled plan for improving student achievement, which includes an expansion of the district’s summer school program for students who are below grade level. But critics complain the plan doesn’t say how the district would determine grade level.

A district spokeswoman declined to comment.

—Jessica L. Sandham

Cleaver Gets Coach Fired

A coach who tried to bring a meat cleaver into a junior high school volleyball game in Rockford, Ill., following an argument with a spectator promptly lost her job earlier this month.

Toni Gay, a volunteer coach and teacher’s aide at Rockford Environmental Science Academy, brought the culinary weapon into the Kennedy Middle School gymnasium March 3 after a dispute with a fan. Ms. Gay went to her car to retrieve the meat cleaver, but was stopped by a school coordinator before she could enter the gym, said Jim Jennings, a spokesman for the 27,000-student Rockford district.

“She reportedly told police that she kept it in the car for personal reasons, and reportedly told the papers that she made a poor decision. We would concur with that,” Mr. Jennings said.

District officials fired Ms. Gay, who could not be reached for comment, the following day.

—Mark Stricherz

A version of this article appeared in the March 21, 2001 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A National Roundup


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