News in Brief: A National Roundup

October 31, 2001 7 min read
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Most Salt Lake City Schools to Stay Open During Games

The Salt Lake City school board voted last week to keep most schools in the 24,000-student district open when the 2002 Winter Olympics come to town in February.

Elaine Tzourtzouklis, the president of the 900-member Salt Lake City Teachers’ Association, had urged closing all district schools even before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon so that students and teachers could attend events as spectators or volunteers. She repeated the request to close schools after the attacks, citing safety reasons. (“Salt Lake City Urged to Close Schools During Olympics,” Sept. 26, 2001.)

But Superintendent Darline Robles said at the school board meeting that she was confident that students would be safe in school. Ms. Robles read a letter from the chairman of the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command that urged schools to “go about business as usual” during the Games.

Two schools in the district, however, will close for two weeks because of expected traffic congestion caused by their proximity to Olympic venues.

—John Gehring

Boston Superintendent Back on Job After Illness

After being out of work for 10 weeks because of illness, Boston schools Superintendent Thomas W. Payzant returned to the job last week.

Mr. Payzant, the leader of the 63,400-student system, was diagnosed in late July with viral meningitis and a mild case of viral encephalitis. He was hospitalized for three days and left his post until returning to the district Oct. 18.

Michael Contompasis served as the acting superintendent during that time.

“I feel really strong,” Mr. Payzant said. “I’m ready to go. I’ve been in four schools. I’m working only eight or nine hours a day, because I’m not supposed to work any more 12- to 14-hour days.”

Mr. Payzant, 60, said doctors have told him the illness was not brought on by overwork. He plans on fulfilling his contract, which expires in 2005.

—Mark Stricherz

Student Suffers Injuries After Being Put Off Bus

A Houston high school student is recovering from serious injuries suffered after he was ejected from a school bus for disruptive behavior.

The student, a 9th grader at Lamar High School, was asked to leave the bus on Oct. 15 after the driver asked him several times to sit down. The student then apparently climbed up the side of the bus and hung onto a window as the bus pulled away from the curb.

He fell and was run over by the rear tire of the bus, according to witness statements provided to police by the driver and another student.

The driver, who has worked for the district for 14 years, violated a district policy that prohibits drivers from forcing students off the bus. He has been placed on unpaid leave pending further investigation, according to Heather Browne, a spokeswoman for the 209,000-student district.

Police at first attempted to cite the student for riding on a portion of a vehicle not intended for passengers, but decided not to because of the student’s injuries. The student was initially listed in critical condition with a broken pelvis. His condition as of last week was upgraded to fair.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Online Charter Schools Expensive, Pa. Districts Say

Online charter schools will cost Pennsylvania school districts about $18 million this school year, according to a survey conducted by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

“It’s an unbudgeted, expensive hit; [districts] almost uniformly told us they’d neither budgeted it nor could have reasonably anticipated spending it,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, the association’s assistant executive director for governmental and member relations.

The group has sued the state for interpreting the 1997 charter school law to include online schools. Seven “cyber charters” are currently open, some of which enroll students from throughout the state. The state requires that districts pay the schools most of the state allocation for students enrolled from within their boundaries. (“Cyber Schools Carving Out Charter Niche,” Oct. 24, 2001. )

In the survey, districts reported that they knew of more than 2,700 students who were currently enrolled in cyber schools.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education, which is expected to release a report on cyber charters this week, has estimated that they enroll more than 5,000 students.

—Andrew Trotter

L.A. School Board Votes to Buy Historic Hotel

After years of delay because of legal wrangling, the Los Angeles Unified School District has approved an agreement to buy the historic Ambassador Hotel for use as a school site.

The $76.5 million purchase is intended to ease overcrowding in surrounding central-city schools, some of which bus more than 1,000 students to other locations.

An earlier proposal to provide more school space led to one of the district’s biggest debacles. About $200 million was invested in plans to build the Belmont Learning Complex on a nearby site, but the plan was abandoned because the property was found to be contaminated by pollution.

The agreement to buy the Ambassador was delayed by a previous owner’s bankruptcy proceedings and a legal dispute with another owner, real estate magnate Donald Trump.

Even though those have been settled, the district still faces negotiations with civic groups, including preservationists who wish to restore the old hotel.

The Ambassador’s Cocoanut Grove nightclub drew celebrities in the 1930s and ‘40s, its guest rooms hosted presidents, and its kitchen was the site of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1968. The hotel closed in the mid- 1980s.

—Catherine Gewertz

Cincinnati Superintendent to Get 33 Percent Raise

Steven Adamowski, the superintendent of the Cincinnati schools, is set to receive a 33 percent increase in salary next year.

Mr. Adamowski’s base salary will go from $136,200 to $181,300 under a new, three-year contract approved last week for the coming school year.

School board members, who unanimously approved the contract, said the increase was intended to make the salary more competitive. Mr. Adamowski’s base pay has not risen since he came to the 42,000-student district in 1998, although he has received $16,000 in merit bonuses over that period.

His salary is not among the highest nationally; the salaries of a few superintendents top $250,000.

Mr. Adamowski previously served as associate superintendent in the Delaware education department.

—Bess Keller

Miami-Dade School Board Establishes Ethics Panel

The Miami-Dade County school board voted last week to create an advisory ethics panel, after a year marked by land-buying scandals.

The seven-member commission is to include two former judges or prosecutors, two local ethics professors, a parent, a businessperson, and a retired public school employee. Members are to be named next month.

The commission won’t have investigative authority or the power to issue subpoenas, but the school board hopes that the Florida legislature next year will change state law to allow the panel to wield such powers, said Jeff Ronci, a spokesman for the 361,000-student district.

Board members agreed to make the change a priority in their agenda for the 2002 legislative session.

The district, which recently was the subject of a highly critical state audit for the way it has been buying land, also created an external oversight committee to monitor such purchases.

—Ann Bradley

Science Project Uses bin Laden Poster

Patricia Thomas, a St. Petersburg, Fla., physics teacher, had a 9-foot-by-9- foot poster made with a bull’s-eye target on the face of the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

She then dropped 60 eggs from 35 feet in the air onto the poster as part of her class’s physics experiment, called “The Yolk’s on Osama.”

But the experiment was carried out only after a controversy over whether it was appropriate to use the image of the terrorist leader.

“There was a concern that we are teaching the wrong lesson by targeting a person,” said Ron Stone, a spokesman for the 107- 000-student Pinellas County district, which serves St. Petersburg and its suburbs.

Administrators at the 1,700-student Dixie Hollins High School— worried that the exercise would offend Muslims—told Ms. Thomas to select a different target.

But they relented when she complained that she had already spent $500 to have the poster of the most-wanted terrorist made. Ms. Thomas said she heard no protests about using the picture as a mark.

Fifty-four of the eggs survived in the containers the students had built as part of the experiment, Ms. Thomas said. She organizes the egg drop every year as a way to teach students the impact of forces and to dare them to find a way to protect eggs from a 35-foot fall.

—David J. Hoff

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