News in Brief: A National Roundup

August 08, 2001 5 min read
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Panel Studying Change in N.Y.C. School Board

Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the New York Assembly, has formed an advisory group to study governance options for the New York City schools, including handing control of the 1.1 million-student system to the mayor.

The decision to form the panel is seen as important because Mr. Silver, a Democrat who has fought to protect the board’s authority, is central to getting legislation passed.

The panel, named last month, consists of powerful figures from the state’s and city’s business, political, and nonprofit worlds. It represents the latest step in a growing movement to give the mayor greater power over the nation’s largest school system.

Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican, has long endorsed such a shift, as does a vocal core of business leaders.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., weighed in recently in favor of mayoral control, and advocated abolishing the school board.

Even the city’s influential teachers’ union announced it would no longer object to a greater role by the mayor.

Currently, the mayor appoints two of the seven members of the New York board of education. Local borough presidents appoint the remaining five.

—Robert C. Johnston

Desegregation Suits Settled

A settlement of two desegregation lawsuits has denied the San Francisco school district the option of using race as a factor in the assignment of children to schools.

Since 1983, the 62,000-student district has operated under a federal consent decree requiring it to remedy racial discrimination in its schools. The decree stems from a lawsuit filed in 1978 by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Until 1999, the consent decree called for the use of a quota system that capped enrollment of one racial or ethnic group in a school at 40 percent to 45 percent, depending on the type of school. That year, a federal judge threw the quota system out in response to a lawsuit filed in 1994 by Chinese-American parents. They had argued that the use of race in enrollment decisions discriminated against children of Chinese descent.

In April, the district asked the federal court once again if the district might use race as a factor in assignments of students to schools, along with other factors such as family income and a mother’s educational level, according to David F. Campos, a deputy city attorney who represents the school system.

In approving a settlement between the district and the plaintiffs in the two cases, U.S. District Judge William Orrick last month rejected the use of race as a consideration. But he did extend the length of time that the district may operate under the consent decree by three years, until the end of 2005. That will permit the district to receive as much as $150 million in desegregation aid that it would not have received otherwise, Mr. Campos said.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Compton, Calif., Names Chief

The Compton, Calif., school district has its first locally picked superintendent since the state took over the fiscally and academically ailing system in 1993. (“‘Comeback’ From State Control Means Solvency for Compton,” Jan. 31, 2001.)

Jesse L. Gonzales, the superintendent in Las Cruces, N.M., for the past 12 years, is the new chief of the 31,000-student district near Los Angeles.

The Compton district has been led by a series of state-appointed administrators.

While the state has begun returning control to the local school board, Mr. Gonzales, 63, is working alongside Randolph E. Ward, the current state administrator. Mr. Gonzales started the job this month.

Cloria L. Patillo, the president of the Compton school board, said that she and other board members were impressed with the improved test scores and strong community relations in Las Cruces during Mr. Gonzales’ tenure.

—Robert C. Johnston

No L.A. Schools Job for Ex-Mayor

Now that he is considering running for governor of California, Richard J. Riordan, who completed his second term as mayor of Los Angeles this summer, is no longer seeking a job with the city’s school district.

Mr. Riordan and Superintendent Roy Romer had discussed the possibility that the former mayor might join the leadership team of the 723,000- student district, perhaps as the head of technology.

But a lot has changed in recent months, said Carolina Guevara, Mr. Riordan’s spokeswoman. Primarily, the Republican ex-mayor has watched Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, grow politically more vulnerable because of the state’s power crisis, and Mr. Riordan could seek the GOP nomination to oppose him in 2002.

—Robert C. Johnston

A ‘First’ for Bronx Science

The first woman has been named as principal of the respected Bronx High School of Science in New York City. Schools Chancellor Harold Levy last month named Valerie Reidy, formerly the head of the school’s biology department, as the sixth principal of the 63-year-old school.

The specialized public school enrolls 2,700 students, who must pass an exam for admission. Vincent Galasso, the acting principal until Ms. Reidy was selected, said the school has a college-attendance rate of nearly 100 percent.

Ms. Reidy was appointed by Mr. Levy on July 13 and began her duties immediately.

—Vanessa Dea

Teen Gets 28 Years in Shooting

A 14-year-old student who shot and killed his teacher on the final day of classes last year has been sentenced to 28 years in prison without the possibility of parole.

Nathaniel Brazill was found guilty of second-degree murder in a jury trial this past spring in the May 26, 2000, slaying of Barry Grunow, a teacher at Lake Worth Middle School in Lake Worth.

Then a 13-year- old honor student with no previous criminal record, the boy shot Mr. Grunow, 35, in a school hallway as other students looked on.

Under Florida law, Judge Richard Wennet could have imposed any sentence from 25 years to life, but did not have the discretion to grant parole.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

NEA Boosts Death Benefits

The families of union members slain on the job will receive substantially larger life-insurance payouts than in the past, in accordance with an overhauled benefits policy offered for free by the National Education Association.

The 2.6 million-member union will pay a maximum of $150,000 to the survivors of educators and other school employees killed in the line of duty, in an attempt to take better care of grieving families, said Kathleen Lyons, a spokeswoman for the NEA. The policy is retroactive to Feb. 1, 2001.

The union had offered payouts of up to $50,000 for those killed while at work since 1982, Ms. Lyons said.

The change in policy was prompted by the deaths of three teachers slain by students over the past three years, Ms. Lyons said.

—Julie Blair

A version of this article appeared in the August 08, 2001 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A National Roundup


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