News in Brief: A National Roundup

April 23, 2003 7 min read
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Newark Chief Now Poised To Stay After Election Boost

Supporters of Superintendent Marion A. Bolden overwhelmingly won the three seats at stake in the Newark, N.J., local school advisory board election last week. The victories on April 15 appeared to ensure that the schools chief will stay at the helm of the 42,000-student district.

After the election, New Jersey Commissioner of Education William L. Librera announced that he would recommend to the state school board that it retain Ms. Bolden as the superintendent of the state-run district.

The “For Our Kids” ticket of incumbent board member Dana Rone and newcomers Anibal Ramos Jr. and Anthony Machado beat by a 3-1 ratio the “Home Team” ticket led by anti-Bolden board members James Parillo and Evelyn Williams, according to unofficial results. The new, nine-member board will have a six-member majority favoring Ms. Bolden.

Debate over Ms. Bolden’s fate has intensified since February, when the Newark advisory board voted 5-4 to recommend hiring David Snead, the chief of the 17,000-student Waterbury, Conn., schools, to lead the district. The vote sparked fierce debate in the community, where the superintendent enjoyed significant grassroots support. (“Uproar Halts Vote on Newark Schools Chief,” Feb. 19, 2003.)

—Rhea R. Borja

Phila. Board Ends Contract With Chancellor Beacon

Philadelphia school officials last week terminated the district’s five-year contract with Chancellor Beacon Academies Inc., an educational management company that oversees five low-performing middle and elementary schools in the 205,000- student district.

Citing what they said were the company’s inadequate staff training and failure to reduce class sizes and to offer extended school day services, Chief Executive Officer Paul G. Vallas and the district’s School Reform Commission decided to end the contract.

“They weren’t moving aggressively enough to reform the schools,” said Amy Guerin, a spokeswoman for the school district.

That’s not the case at all, said Octavio J. Visiedo, the chairman and chief executive officer of Chancellor Beacon, which is based in Coconut Grove, Fla.

“I would argue strongly that if objective observers looked at our contract and our performance to date, they would agree that we had exceeded [expectations],” he said.

The six other management companies or nonprofit institutions overseeing Philadelphia schools, including the New York City-based Edison Schools Inc. and the University of Pennsylvania, will continue to do so, Ms. Guerin added. Forty-five low-performing public schools in the city are now under outside management.

In addition, district leaders are considering applications from seven educational management companies to run several more schools. Final selection is scheduled for mid-May.

—Rhea R. Borja

Study of Cleveland Voucher Plan Finds No Notable Academic Gain

A study of a group of students participating in the Cleveland voucher program has concluded that it had no significant effect on their academic achievement.

Read the report online, from the Indiana Center for Evaluation. (Requires free registration and Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

The report, part of an ongoing, longitudinal evaluation of the state-run Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program, looks at a cohort of students who entered 1st grade in 1998 and finished 3rd grade in 2001. It compares pupils who used vouchers to attend private schools and those who remained in public schools.

Although the public school students started out behind the voucher students, those academic differences no longer existed by the end of 1st grade, and both groups made nearly equal progress during the next two years, the study found.

The evaluation was conducted by the Indiana Center for Evaluation, at Indiana University, which has a contract to study the program for the Ohio Department of Education.

Dorothea Howe, a spokeswoman for the department, said the agency would continue to evaluate the program but took no position on the study’s findings.

—Ann Bradley

Ex-Union President’s ‘Stylist’ Pleads Guilty in Theft Probe

A man who worked as a personal “stylist” for the former head of the Washington Teachers’ Union has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder proceeds of a crime.

Michael W. Martin stated in court papers on April 11 that he set up a bogus company at the behest of former President Barbara A. Bullock and his mother-in-law, Gwendolyn Hemphill, who had served as Ms. Bullock’s assistant.

The fake business, Expressions Unlimited, took in more than $480,000 in union money, according to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. Mr. Martin, 43, faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and a $500,000 fine.

Ms. Bullock, Ms. Hemphill, former union treasurer James O. Baxter II, and some members of their families are all under investigation for an alleged embezzlement scheme in which they are accused of stealing at least $5 million from the 5,000-member union from 1995 until last fall.

Union chauffeur Leroy Holmes also has pleaded guilty to charges of money laundering. (“Former Union President Is at Center of Probe,” Jan. 29, 2003.)

Mr. Martin’s lawyer could not be reached for comment.

The American Federation of Teachers, the WTU’S parent organization, took over the management of the local affiliate in January.

—Julie Blair

Illinois Audit Calls for Clarity In Oversight of Academy

An Illinois state audit of the Teachers Academy for Mathematics and Science has pointed out what the auditors see as a need to clarify the financial status of the Chicago institution.

The audit, released this month, found that the academy and the state board of education have no formal agreement governing the money the academy receives.

Established in 1990, the academy provides professional development to teachers in low-performing schools in the state.

Since 1995, the state has provided a majority of the academy’s funding, through both direct appropriations and grants totaling some $32.5 million. But the state board has failed to set clear guidelines to govern the academy’s use of state funds, the audit found.

In addition, the audit says, the state has relied too heavily on the academy itself to report on its activities and programs, and hasn’t independently verified its reports.

In a statement responding to the findings, the state school board said it had not believed that oversight of the academy was its responsibility, because the academy received a direct appropriation from the state budget.

“However, in light of the auditor general’s recommendations, the agency has begun planning to assure improved oversight of the academy’s operations,” the board said.

—Ann Bradley

Baltimore Board Names Interim Schools CEO

The Baltimore school board has named Bonnie S. Copeland, a seasoned Maryland educator and the president of a nonprofit organization, as the interim chief executive officer of the city’s public schools.

Ms. Copeland replaces Carmen V. Russo, who announced in March that she would leave her position of three years to work for a national nonprofit education foundation.

Ms. Copeland, a former teacher, administrator, and Baltimore school board commissioner, will start working in the 95,000-student district on July 1. She is currently the head of the Fund for Educational Excellence, an organization formed to help improve student achievement and opportunity in Baltimore public schools.

—Hattie Brown

Health Commissioner Drops Baltimore Schools’ Fines

The Baltimore health commissioner last week waived $11,600 in fines against 51 city schools that had violated clean-water standards.

All 173 schools in the 95,000- student district are now in full compliance, Dr. Peter Bielenson said. He waived the fees because the Baltimore schools are already dealing with a budget deficit.

A health department inspection in early March found the water in the drinking fountains of 51 schools was contaminated with lead, and officials issued 56 citations at $100 each. A second inspection found that 15 schools still did not have acceptable drinking water. They were issued another 60 citations.

Health officials found no more violations in subsequent inspections.

—Rhea R. Borja

S.F. Changes Assignments In Response to Complaints

After receiving hundreds of complaints from parents unhappy that their children would have to travel long distances to school, the San Francisco school district has adjusted some assignments for next school year.

Under the new arrangement, elementary and middle school pupils who did not qualify for enrollment in schools of their choice will be able to attend other facilities within two miles of their homes.

The 60,000-student district’s complex assignment policy was devised in response to two recent lawsuits that called for equity in educational opportunities for all students, but prohibited the use of race as a factor in assignments.

Parents are allowed to choose five schools for their children. Some 15,000 students, however, did not qualify for enrollment in any of their chosen schools, so the district assigned them elsewhere.

The district will continue to try to minimize the distance high school students must go each day, but fewer assignment options are possible at that level, a spokeswoman for the district said.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo


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