News in Brief: A National Roundup

November 13, 2002 7 min read
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Urban League President Announces Resignation

Hugh B. Price, who has led the National Urban League for nearly nine years, has announced that he plans to step down.

Hugh B. Price

In a Nov. 6 memo to the trustees of the New York City-based organization, Mr. Price said that serving as president and chief executive officer has been “the job of a lifetime,” but that it is time to make way for fresh leadership and allow himself more time for his personal life.

The National Urban League, a 92-year-old organization that works for civil rights and economic self-reliance for African-Americans, has expanded its work in education during Mr. Price’s tenure.

Mr. Price created the National Achievers Society, an honor society for black students that has enrolled 25,000 young people since 1998. In partnership with several organizations, he also launched a campaign, aimed at black parents, about the importance of literacy for children. (“Urban League Effort Targets Young Achievers,” July 14, 1999.)

Mr. Price, 60, has not disclosed what he will do after his departure, tentatively set for next spring.

—Catherine Gewertz

Nine-Week Strike Ends In Ohio School District

Teachers in Maple Heights, Ohio, returned to their schools last week, ending a bitter strike that had put substitute teachers in charge of the suburban Cleveland district’s classrooms for nine weeks.

Both sides were expected to give final approval to a two-year pact by last weekend. The contract was tentatively approved by the union and the 4,800-student district’s school board early last week.

In a rare move reflecting the gap between the two sides on salary and other issues, federal mediators drafted the compromise agreement. It gives the teachers pay raises of 3 percent in the first year of the contract and 3.5 percent in the second. The union, an affiliate of the National Education Association, had been seeking raises of 5 percent and 3.5 percent. The contract also provides for arbitration in 2004 if the negotiations reach an impasse then.

—Bess Keller

Camden, N.J., School Closed After Structural Flaws Found

An elementary school in Camden, N.J., has been shut down after an inspection found columns weakened to the point of “imminent failure” and at risk of collapsing with no warning.

Students from Lanning Square Elementary School, which has about 780 pupils in prekindergarten through 8th grade, were being transferred to three other city schools, where they were expected to begin classes this week. The district, located across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, serves 18,500 students in 34 schools.

The problems were revealed after members of the school staff noticed cracking in the building’s columns during a recent inspection. Camden school officials followed up by calling a private company, Adler Engineers Inc., to make a more detailed examination, district spokesman Bart Leff said. The engineering company found that the columns and floor beams could fail “catastrophically” with “little or no time to evacuate the building,” and recommended in its report that the school be closed.

Camden officials are investigating the quality of construction at all schools built in the 1960s, around the same time as Lanning, Mr. Leff added.

—Sean Cavanagh

Boston Charter School Raises $1.6 Million for Instruction

The Boston Renaissance Charter School has raised $1.6 million to help improve the quality of instruction at the 1,350-student school.

The school, which opened in 1995 and serves grades K-8, will use the money to pay for two master teachers to serve as “instructional coaches” for the relatively inexperienced faculty. A majority of teachers at Boston Renaissance have been teaching between two and four years, said Dudley Blodget, the president of the Renaissance Foundation, which runs the school.

The money, donated by individuals and foundations, also will pay the salaries of three elementary teachers who teach only science, leaving classroom teachers to concentrate on the other subjects.

The 15-month campaign was the second for the school, which in 1999 raised $1.8 million to add a cafeteria to its downtown Boston building. It is one of the largest charter schools in the nation, Mr. Blodget said.

—Ann Bradley

Ex-N.J. Mayor Sentenced For Defrauding Schools

A former mayor of Newark, N.J., was placed on three years’ probation and ordered to pay delinquent taxes for his role in defrauding a New Jersey school district.

Kenneth A. Gibson pleaded guilty on Oct. 31 to one count of filing a false personal-income-tax return. U.S. District Judge William G. Bassler barred him from seeking any public contracts during his probation.

Mr. Gibson’s engineering company, Gibson Associates, was placed on five years’ probation and barred from seeking public contracts during that time. The company also must repay $349,000 that was bilked from the Irvington Township school district in Essex County, N.J.

The charges arose from a $50 million construction project Mr. Gibson’s company oversaw between 1991 and 1995 in the 7,800-student district. The first trial on the charges ended with a hung jury last fall.

In pleading guilty last month, Gibson Associates admitted inflating its bills and charging the board for time not spent on the project, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

—Catherine Gewertz

Ky. Students Skip Class To Protest Gay Group

A decision to allow a gay-rights student group to meet on the campus of Boyd County High School in Cannonsburg, Ky., prompted an estimated 225 students to skip a day of classes last week.

The high school posted more than 420 absences on Nov. 4—more than 40 percent of its 990-student enrollment—according to Boyd County District Superintendent Bill Capehart. He attributed at least 60 to 80 of those to normal absences and said at least another 100 were excused absences for a school-sponsored trip.

Most of the other absent students apparently were protesting a recent vote by the school’s teacher-parent council to allow a student Gay-Straight Alliance.

The council’s 3-2 decision was its third vote this year on the matter, Mr. Capehart said. The council had rejected the group’s application twice before student organizers consulted the American Civil Liberties Union, which charged that the council was violating the federal Equal Access Act.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Music Teacher Reinstated After Remark About Guns

A suburban Chicago music teacher who joked about shooting her 4th graders was welcomed back to school by administrators following an investigation, much to the dismay of some parents.

Lois Emrich returned to Liberty Elementary School on Oct. 1 following “firm disciplinary action,” said Darlene Johnson, a spokeswoman for the 17,600-student Community School District 300 in the northwestern suburbs of Chicago.

Parents reported the Oct. 21 incident to school administrators. Ms. Emrich, a 30-year veteran, was asked to stay home from school with pay shortly thereafter for one week, Ms. Johnson said. Ms. Emrich said she was also required to apologize to her students, their families, and those of other students who attend the school.

The remarks made were “pure foolishness and the kids knew this,” she said. Ms. Emrich said she regrets making the comments, adding that “in this day and age, it was inappropriate.”

Her regrets did little to soothe parents like Cass Garcia, who contends the educator should not have been allowed to return to school. “This is her motivational tool to spur the children into doing good in the classroom? Talk about guns,” Ms. Garcia told the Chicago Tribune.

—Julie Blair

Calif. District Faces Takeover

A small California district with severe financial and management problems nearly shut down for two days this month when teachers and staff members refused to work without pay.

As a result, Gov. Gray Davis has asked the legislature to approve a state takeover of the 1,000-student West Fresno district, which serves an impoverished minority community and is bogged down with long-standing financial and management problems.

On Nov. 1 and 4, most teachers and staff members called in sick after they learned that the district had not approved a budget and was unable to continue paying their salaries. Many students also stayed home.

The school board blamed Peter G. Mehas, the superintendent of the Fresno County office of education, for withholding money, while Mr. Mehas said the district was woefully mismanaged. The county office offered the district a loan with the condition that the agency would take control of most management duties, but that offer was rejected by the board.

Teachers returned to work last week after a Fresno County judge declared that the district was in contempt of court for failing to work with the county. The ruling also requires that the school board approve a budget within 20 days.

Tentatively, the county office of education last week agreed to lend the district enough money to pay its bills and staff salaries until the state passes a takeover bill early next year.

—Joetta L. Sack

A version of this article appeared in the November 13, 2002 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A National Roundup


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