News in Brief: A National Roundup

November 12, 2003 7 min read
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Miami-Dade Superintendent Announces His Departure

The superintendent of the Miami-Dade County school system, the nation’s fourth largest, announced last week that he would leave the post in June.

Merrett R. Stierheim’s Nov. 5 memo to the board of education said he would step down when his contract expired June 30. He will have led the 363,000-student Florida district for two years and eight months.

The district is “on the right track,” but running it for a divided school board in a “politicized” culture that is “highly resistant to change” has been difficult, the superintendent said in the memo.

He announced his decision seven months in advance to give the board ample time to replace him, he said.

Mr. Stierheim, who became widely known for his work managing city and county governments in the Miami area, was hired in October 2001 to replace Roger Cuevas, who was fired as superintendent amid criticism of his handling of the district’s business affairs.

—Catherine Gewertz

Bloomberg Calls for $13.1 Billion For School Construction, Repair

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has proposed the most ambitious school construction and repair plan in New York City history.

The five-year, $13.1 billion capital plan would, among other features, provide $4 billion to build or lease 76 new school buildings and $4.5 billion to repair and upgrade old buildings. The proposal calls for the state to pay for half the expense, and it cites a school funding decision handed down in June by the state’s highest court that requires New York state to correct an unfair system of school finance.

Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein joined the mayor on Nov. 3 at Public School 234 in Queens to make the announcement.

Aides to Gov. George P. Pataki said they would review details of the plan, but added that state aid for school construction in the city has tripled since the governor took office nine years ago.

—John Gehring

S.C. High School Receives Gift From Estate of Strom Thurmond

The late Strom Thurmond, the recently retired U.S. senator who died on June 26 at the age of 100, has left a personal collection of books to his hometown South Carolina high school, now named after him.

The 1,000-student Strom Thurmond High School in Edgefield was named in the senator’s will, which was recently made public. Mr. Thurmond’s more important personal papers were donated to Clemson University, where he had been a student.

Chris Clancy, the principal at Strom Thurmond High, said that he wasn’t sure how many books the school would receive. Some books might be useful in the school library, but others may be displayed in an exhibit or donated to the Edgefield County library or historical society, he said.

Mr. Thurmond was elected schools superintendent for Edgefield County in 1928. He ran for president in 1948 while governor of South Carolina, and was elected to the Senate in 1954.

—Alan Richard

Minneapolis Enrollment Drops, Report Says, Citing Competition

The Minneapolis public schools could see a substantial decline in enrollment over the next five years, according to a report from the district that points to competition from charter schools and suburban districts as the main reasons.

The report’s projections for the 41,000-student district are based on enrollment trends over the past five years and a continuation of those trends. Competition from charter and suburban schools, the Nov. 3 report found, has increased significantly in the past five years.

Under Minnesota’s open-enrollment policy, students are allowed to attend any school in the state; Minneapolis students receive free transportation.

Last year, 5,351 children who lived in Minneapolis attended charter or suburban schools, compared with 2,527 in 1998. The report projects a 32,500-student enrollment for the district in 2008, which would be a loss of some 8,500 students from today’s figure.

“This information is not a surprise to us,” interim Superintendent David Jennings said in a statement. “Our purpose for doing the report was to quantify what we’ve known anecdotally for some time, so that we can plan effectively based on real data.”

—John Gehring

Idaho Board Votes to Accept New Teacher Test for Licensure

Idaho has become the second state to embrace a system of teacher certification that relies mostly on multiple-choice examinations as the main determinant of a new educator’s skill.

The state board of education voted 7-1 last week to accept the Passport to Teaching test, which was developed by the Washington-based American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence. Teachers need not complete a teacher-training program or take pedagogical coursework; they simply pass the test as a measure of their readiness for the profession.

The ABCTE, started in 2001 in part by the Education Leaders Council, a Washington-based group of state schools officials, contends that such a system will break down barriers into the teaching profession, allowing smart, qualified people to easily enter the field during a time of great need.

Critics, however, charge that the test does not adequately measure what teachers know and can do in the classroom. Pennsylvania was the first state to accept the system.

—Julie Blair

Pa. High Court Dismisses Suit Challenging Edison’s Phila. Work

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has refused to consider a lawsuit that questioned the legality of Edison Schools Inc.'s consulting contract with the Philadelphia school district.

In an order on Oct. 28, the state’s highest court affirmed a trial-court decision dismissing the case filed by a coalition of labor and community groups in 2001, as the state was assuming control of the district.

The Coalition to Keep Our Schools Public had argued that the district violated state conflict-of-interest laws when its School Reform Commission awarded Edison a contract to act as consultant to the district, because the company had earlier served as a paid consultant to the state.

The district’s chief executive officer, Paul G. Vallas, later terminated the consulting contract with the district. Edison, a New York City-based education management company, still operates 20 Philadelphia public schools.

—Catherine Gewertz

Laptop Supporters Lose Seats On Stillwater, Minn., Board

Two critics of a school laptop-computer program helped topple three incumbents from the Stillwater, Minn., school board last week.

Write-in candidates Christopher Kunze and Nancy Hoffman campaigned together against the district’s “1:1 Laptop Initiative,” a partnership with Apple Computer Inc. that began this fall.

A board-approved contract made the 1,000-student Oak-Land Junior High School a national demonstration site for the Apple project; the company will supply training and other resources. The district has committed $1.7 million over five years from a technology levy to install wireless computer networks and buy 1,174 laptops to issue to every student and teacher at the school.

The three defeated board members, Christy Hlavacek, Mary Cecconi, and John Uppgren, approved the agreement. David “Choc” Junker, the only incumbent to win re-election, voted against it.

Mr. Kunze and Ms. Hoffman, who won two of the four open slots on the seven-member board, argued that the laptop project was not cost-effective and was launched without adequate public discussion, Mr. Kunze said.

Superintendent Kathleen Macy said that the district had done a poor job of communicating about the laptop program with the public.

—Andrew Trotter

L.A. Schools Ordered to Pay More for Land Bought for School

In the midst of its aggressive plan to build 120 schools over the next several years, the Los Angeles Unified School District has lost an eminent-domain lawsuit over 4.6 acres of land intended for the construction of an athletic field.

A jury in the county superior court on decided Nov. 4 that the district must pay $22 million for the land, instead of the $12.5 million that the district had figured.

The owner of the land, 3434 South Grand Avenue LLC, argued that the property’s fair-market value exceeded that determined by the district.

The district will most likely appeal the jury’s decision, said Kevin Reed, the acting general counsel for the 727,500-student school system.

—Olivia Doherty


  • Police in the District of Columbia have arrested a 15-year-old boy in the Oct. 30 shooting death of a football player at Anacostia Senior High School.
  • After a monthlong cleanup effort following a mercury spill, the same city’s Ballou Senior High School reopened on Nov. 3.


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