Education

News in Brief: A National Roundup

December 12, 2001 8 min read
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Catholic School Unions in N.Y.C. Stage Job Actions

Education officials in the Archdiocese of New York scrambled last week to keep schools open as job actions were called by two of the system’s teachers’ unions.

On Nov. 29, members of the Lay Faculty Association, which represents about 450 educators at 10 high schools run by the Roman Catholic school system, began a strike. The group wants to join the pension plan of the local laborers’ union with which it is affiliated, but archdiocesan officials say the move would result in future costs the archdiocese couldn’t afford.

The teachers counter that the system’s current retirement plan is inadequate.

Then on Dec. 3, a round of sickouts was started by the Federation of Catholic Teachers, which includes staff members at some 230 elementary and secondary schools operated by local parishes. The federation and the archdiocese have been locked in a dispute over changes in wages and benefits in a new contract.

Despite the two job actions, officials of the archdiocese said that only one of its schools was closed for one day because of the disruptions. Although many schedules were curtailed, schools were kept open as administrators and religious staff filled in for the absent teachers.

—Jeff Archer

Faced With Deficit, D.C. Board Votes to Cut the School Year

Because of a projected $80 million deficit in the District of Columbia school system’s budget for fiscal 2001, students may be getting an extra seven days off of school this year.

The school board, in a unanimous vote last month, agreed to cut the school year to help balance the system’s $658.6 million budget for fiscal 2002. The board also voted to reduce funding for programs such as summer school and special education.

The vote was in response to a report by the school system’s chief financial officer, Natwar Gandhi, that had projected the budget deficit.

However, the cuts are not set in stone. School board members are somewhat skeptical of the chief financial officer’s assessment and have doubts about the actual size of the deficit, said Elena Temple, the board’s director of communications and outreach.

Ms. Temple said an auditor is currently looking into the school system’s financial situation and will most likely release those findings in January. Based on the auditor’s evaluation, the school board will decide whether to go ahead with the seven-day cut.

—Tom Kim

Mass. Budget Cuts Force State to Drop Educators’ Internet Service

Massachusetts no longer can afford to provide its teachers with Internet service at home for a small fee, state officials have announced.

The state education department has ended support for MassEd.Net, which has given about 27,000 teachers at-home access to e-mail, the World Wide Web, and a personal Web page for a $56 annual fee, or about one-sixth the market rate. Last year, the service—also used by school administrators—cost just $25.

The abrupt shutdown came after a conference committee of the state legislature decided last month to delete the program’s funding from the 2002 budget, which took effect in July.

To give teachers time to find other Internet-services, however, officials reached an agreement with the Internet services company RCN Corp., based in Princeton, N.J., to provide MassEd.Net subscribers with service through this month for no additional charge. Service through June will cost $13.95 monthly.

—Andrew Trotter

Michigan Students Unharmed After Exposure to Mercury

Twenty-seven Michigan 6th graders suffered no side effects after they touched mercury in a science experiment, officials of the Grand Ledge school district said last week.

The students’ teacher encouraged them to handle the metallic chemical element and a small amount of the liquid spilled during a lab experiment on Nov. 30, according to a news release issued by the 5,400-student district near Lansing.

But none of the students suffered short-term illnesses because of the incident, officials said. Mercury exposure can cause kidney breakdown and impair the digestive and nervous systems of children, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The classroom where the exposure occurred has been temporarily closed for an environmental cleanup.

Paul Cherry, the classroom teacher, has been placed on administrative leave while the district investigates the incident, according to Steven H. Krumm, a spokesman for the district.

—David J. Hoff

Annenberg Foundation Awards $10 Million to Boston Schools

The Boston public schools were awarded $10 million last week by the Annenberg Foundation.

The money will be used to hire additional staff members, improve after-school programs, and help pay for the 63,000- student district’s assessment and accountability plan.

The award from the foundation is the second for the district. Five years ago, the Boston district received $10 million as part of the Annenberg Challenge, the St. David’s, Pa.- based philanthropy’s $500 million effort to promote widespread school improvement.

The Boston district received the grant because it has excellent leadership, strong management, and firm support from both the community and the teachers’ union, said Gail Levin, the foundation’s executive director.

In other recent grants, the philanthropy awarded $12 million to the Center for Arts Education, a nonprofit group in New York City that promotes arts education in area schools, and $15 million to the Bay Area School Collaborative, a group of 118 school districts in the San Francisco area, Ms. Levin said.

—Michelle Galley

Ariz. Orders Scottsdale District To Charge Charter School Rent

The Arizona attorney general has ordered the Scottsdale school district to stop providing free space to a charter school where a district official teaches.

The order came last month, at the end of a yearlong state investigation into allegations of financial improprieties by employees and officials of the 27,000-student district.

Investigators cited the district for failing to charge rent to the Scottsdale Educational Enrichment Services Charter School and the president of the district’s school board, Thomas C. Carey, for failing to disclose his interest in the school.

Mr. Carey teaches at the school. He could not be reached for comment, but told a local newspaper that he had disclosed the connection, though he probably should have done so sooner.

The district, which paid a fine for illegal financial transactions in 1999 and has been under state scrutiny since, agreed to the order and a nine- month extension of the oversight.

—Bess Keller

Md. District Receives Waiver To Continue Reading Schedule

The Anne Arundel County, Md., school district has been given a temporary waiver from state requirements that every middle school student take physical education and fine arts classes.

The Maryland board of education voted 11-1 on Dec. 4 to grant the 74,000-student system the waiver for the remainder of the school year. But Anne Arundel officials must come up with a new schedule by next fall that incorporates the classes, the board said.

The county school board changed students’ schedules last spring to increase the amount of time 6th graders spent on reading. But the move cut into time for required courses and electives, sparking protests from parents.

Critics of the new schedule appealed to the state board, which earlier this fall ordered the county to change the schedule in the middle of this school year. But Anne Arundel officials said the move would be costly and disruptive in the middle of the school year, and they successfully sought the waiver.

—Ann Bradley

Chicago Board Cracks Down On Student Absenteeism

A new crackdown on student absenteeism and truancy by the Chicago public schools could lead to family counseling or court appearances for parents.

The Chicago board of education approved a new policy late last month that requires schools with yearly attendance rates below 95 percent to create an “attendance improvement plan” to address student absenteeism. Each school must implement the plan next fall.

The policy also establishes a department of chronic-truant adjudication, which will be charged with resolving extreme truancy cases and determining applicable sanctions. The 431,000-student district also plans to tap local social service agencies for support in getting students into the classroom.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Mass. Student Fatally Stabs Counselor

A Springfield, Mass., high school student has been charged as an adult with first-degree murder in the Dec. 5 stabbing death of a well-liked high school counselor.

Corey Ramos, a 17-year-old student at Springfield High School, an alternative high school, pleaded not guilty in state district court in Springfield last week to killing the Rev. Theodore C. Brown, 51, who was also a Pentecostal minister.

Mr. Ramos allegedly stabbed Mr. Brown in the chest and stomach five to six times with an 81/2-inch, double-edged stainless-steel knife during an argument, according to Springfield police Lt. William Noonan. The dispute, which up to nine students and a teacher witnessed, was over Mr. Ramos’ refusal to remove the hood of his jacket to comply with school rules.

Springfield Superintendent Joseph Burke characterized Mr. Ramos as “very troubled, a withdrawn kid who needed a lot of guidance but didn’t connect with adults very readily.”

Mr. Ramos is being held without bail. Mr. Burke said he will tighten security in the 26,000-student system by increasing random searches in the middle and high schools.

“This is a terrible tragedy, and the realization of one of our worst fears,” state Commissioner of Education David P. Driscoll said in a statement. “We’ve got to get weapons out of the hands of our young people.”

—Rhea R. Borja

A version of this article appeared in the December 12, 2001 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A National Roundup

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