News in Brief: A National Roundup

October 23, 2002 5 min read
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USDA Probing Shipments Of Suspect Meat to Schools

Some schools may have received turkey meat from a processing facility that has been linked to a recent outbreak of illness in the Northeast, federal officials said last week.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on Oct. 17 that it had purchased 1.8 million pounds of turkey for distribution to schools and other agencies from the facility in Franconia, Pa. The USDA was trying to determine how much of the food was still located in state-controlled warehouses and how much may have been sent to schools.

“We’re not really sure as to whether any of it got as far as the school cafeteria and was consumed,” said Steven Cohen, a spokesman for the USDA’s food-safety and inspection service.

Federal officials are still investigating the situation at the plant, where the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes was discovered on a surface that has contact with the meat. However, based on more than 400 product tests, no Listeria has yet been detected on any food from the facility.

Overall, more than 27 million pounds of meat from the facility were recalled this month.

Mr. Cohen cautioned that products from the Franconia plant may not pose a risk, but said the recall was ordered as a public-safety measure.

—Erik W. Robelen

Ed. Dept. Won’t Investigate Edison’s Philadelphia Contract

The inspector general of the U.S. Department of Education has declined to pursue an investigation of how Edison Schools Inc. won a $60 million, five- year contract to manage 20 schools in Philadelphia.

In letters to district and city officials dated Oct. 11, Bernard Tadley, a regional inspector general, said that the New York City-based Edison and other outside managers hired last summer are not receiving federal funds to manage the schools, and that “fiscal and programmatic responsibility” for federal programs still rests with the Philadelphia school district.

As a result, he said, state and local investigators would be the “more appropriate” agencies to handle such a probe. But he added that the federal agency still could become involved in the future if circumstances changed or new information came to light.

Pennsylvania Auditor General Robert P. Casey Jr. is conducting an investigation into the circumstances under which the state awarded Edison a no-bid, $2.7 million contract in July 2001 to study the Philadelphia district.

Karen Walsh, a spokeswoman for Mr. Casey, said the agency currently lacked authority to investigate the school management contract because no state money had yet been disbursed under that contract.

—Catherine Gewertz

Student’s Death Prompts Equipment Change in District

A Maryland school district has decided to purchase stationary soccer goals, following the death of a high school student who was injured while helping to carry a soccer goal.

The Charles County district will replace the old goals on schools’ main playing fields with fixed goals that can be used for both soccer and football, said Katie O’Malley-Simpson, a spokeswoman for the 23,500- student district. The district also is discouraging schools from allowing students to move heavy equipment.

Keith Franklin, 17, was carrying a 300- pound steel soccer goal across the school playing field, with the help of several other students, during gym class on Sept. 30. Mr. Franklin, a student at Westlake High School in Waldorf, slipped and was struck in the head by the goal post.

He was taken to Prince George’s Hospital, where he was pronounced dead within two hours of the incident, said Kristen Adkins, a Charles County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman.

—Nashiah Ahmad

Former S.F. School Official Charged In Alleged Scheme

A former facilities manager for the San Francisco school district has been charged with 22 felonies, including misappropriation of funds, in connection with a $30 million energy-savings contract in the district.

The San Francisco district attorney’s office brought the criminal charges against Timothy Tronson, 45, after he was arrested at his home on Oct. 9. He was being held in lieu of $2 million bail.

The complaint alleges that Mr. Tronson violated laws governing conflicts of interest as a district official between late 1999 and early 2001, a period extending past the end of his employment contract in summer 2000.

Mr. Tronson’s wife was also arrested in the alleged scheme, as was a former employee of Strategic Resource Solutions Corp., a Raleigh, N.C., energy-consulting company owned by Progress Energy Inc.

Mr. Tronson and the former SRS employee are among several charged with conspiring to file a series of false documents that enabled $500,000 to be paid to a company controlled by one of the former employees. That company, Covenant Enterprises, in turn allegedly paid more than $400,000 to Mr. Tronson and Saeed Karimi, Mr. Tronson’s brother-in-law.

Last week, SRS pleaded guilty to two felony counts of grand theft in connection with the energy project and agreed to pay a criminal fine of $500,000 plus $500,000 in restitution to the district, according to the district attorney’s office.

Mr. Tronson’s lawyer did not return a call for comment.

—Andrew Trotter

Boston High School Vows To Combat ‘Racist’ Graffiti

South Boston High School administrators sent a letter this month to parents and members of the school community after vandals spray-painted racial slurs around the campus.

The graffiti, which included obscenities and threats to African-American students, was discovered on Oct. 3 and has been power-washed away, school officials said.

They pledged to work closely with the Boston police and the mayor’s office to “discover the parties responsible for this heinous display.”

The school, which is divided into three small academies with special academic themes, is developing a campaign to respond to the incident, which the letter said stemmed from “cultural ignorance.”

Workshops also are planned to “explore the seeds of racism,” the letter said, and help students and faculty members combat racist attitudes and actions.

—Ann Bradley

Alternatives to Textbooks

Teachers who use textbooks every day are less likely to use other kinds of instructional materials in their classrooms, according to a national survey of members of the National Education Association looking at how teachers use textbooks.

SOURCE: June 2002 survey of 1,000 teachers by NEA and Association of American Publishers


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