News in Brief: A National Roundup

January 28, 2004 7 min read
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U.S. Court Rejects Lawsuit Filed by Head Start Group

A federal district court in Washington has rejected a request for a temporary restraining order from the National Head Start Association over a government survey of Head Start administrators’ salaries.

The survey was distributed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services after Republican leaders in the House of Representatives became aware that some directors of agencies receiving federal Head Start funds were making more than $200,000 in annual pay.

But the Alexandria-based association, which represents Head Start staff members and participating families, argued that the survey did not present an accurate picture because it did not consider such factors as a director’s years of service and the number of children served.

In his Jan. 20 decision, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates wrote that the survey “imposes no unforeseen duties on Head Start programs.”

“The court is not persuaded that HHS’s act of data collection consistent with agency regulations amounts to an infringement of anyone’s Fifth Amendment rights,” he added.

In a letter to Head Start directors, NHSA leaders said they respected the judge’s decision, but they encouraged those who complete the surveys to attach “comparative information” in the hope that it would be considered by HHS officials.

—Linda Jacobson

Minneapolis Chief Proposes ‘Case for Change’ to Board

The interim superintendent of the Minneapolis public schools is pushing for big changes in the district’s structure and philosophy in response to competition from surrounding districts and charter schools.

In a Jan. 16 memo to the school board titled “The Case for Change,” David Jennings argued that the 47,000- student district remained “trapped in the vicious cycle of the status quo” and that “incremental change” could no longer drive decisions. In November, the district projected a significant decline in enrollment over the next five years.

Mr. Jennings, whose contract expires in June, recommended forming subdistricts within the system that would be managed by school boards and superintendents. While the central district would set taxes and oversee finances, subdistricts would devise their own curricula and run overall operations.

The memo also called for seeking a new state charter school law that could provide better oversight of schools’ academic outcomes and finances.

He also proposed the concept of making teachers employees of a “union hall,” operated by the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, rather than of the district.

The school board began discussing the various options during a retreat last week, but no formal action has been taken on the ideas.

— John Gehring

Walton Foundation Responds To Suit by Ex-Charter Executive

The Walton Family Foundation has asked a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit against it by the former president and chief executive officer of the National Charter School Alliance.

Marc Dean Millot claims that the foundation reneged on a commitment to finance the alliance, thereby costing him his job and deliberately torpedoing the nascent organization of state charter school groups. (“Suit Accuses Walton Foundation of Torpedoing New Charter Group,” Dec. 10, 2003).

But in court papers filed in the federal district court in Alexandria, Va., the foundation argues that Mr. Millot has no case because the Bentonville, Ark.-based philanthropy did not make a legally enforceable funding commitment to the alliance.

Buddy D. Philpot, the foundation’s executive director, said in a statement released along with the Jan. 15 motion to dismiss the lawsuit that the foundation’s interactions with the alliance had been “clear and transparent.” He also noted that the alliance, whose directors are considering disbanding because of lack of funding, “has neither joined nor is supporting Mr. Millot in his lawsuit.”

Meanwhile, lawyers for Mr. Millot filed two fresh complaints late last week. One was a federal lawsuit against members of the search committee that recruited him to the alliance, and the other was a claim against the alliance itself before the American Arbitration Association.

—Caroline Hendrie

N.Y.C. Union Calls for Change In Teacher-Dismissal Process

The New York City teachers’ union has proposed streamlining the process for firing incompetent teachers, cutting the time involved from as long as two years to at most six months.

The proposal, made by United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten in a speech to a civic group this month, was coupled with a call to speed up other cases against teachers. To empty the district’s “rubber rooms,” where teachers accused of malfeasance sometimes sit for years while collecting their salaries, Ms. Weingarten envisions hiring a special judicial master and recruiting volunteer lawyers to resolve the more than 200 existing cases.

In the future, malfeasance cases should be resolved within six months, she said.

Under the plan put forth by Ms. Weingarten, whose union is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, the time for dealing with incompetence complaints would be cut, in part, by giving the teachers with bad evaluations 90 days of union help to improve. If they then did not meet the required standard, the union would recommend their departure.

Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein believes the proposals are “positive and constructive,” a spokesman said.

—Bess Keller

Parents of Bullied Student Settle With Oregon District

The parents of an Oregon middle school student who was repeatedly bullied and then attacked on a school bus have agreed to a $10,000 settlement from the Eugene school district.

The lawsuit, filed in September in U.S. District Court in Eugene, alleged that the district had failed to address the bullying properly and was negligent in ensuring the student’s safety.

Casey Woodruff, a 7th grader at the 620-student Monroe Middle School, got into an altercation with a group of students on the bus after they allegedly began punching and kicking him.

Kelly McIver, a spokesman for the 18,200-student district, said that while the incident was unfortunate, district officials reacted appropriately, including taking disciplinary action against Casey’s attackers and enforcing proper school behavior.

The district provides anti-harassment training for teachers and students, Mr. McIver said. But some of the incidents leading up to the attack were beyond its control, he said, because they occurred off school grounds.

—Marianne D. Hurst

Former Md. Superintendent Sentenced on Rape Charges

A former school district superintendent from Maryland has been given 18 months in prison in a rape case involving an elementary-age girl.

William H. Hyde, who led the 28,000-student Carroll County, Md., schools from 1998 to 2000, was convicted last August in a Maryland court of sexual abuse and second-degree rape of a 10- year-old girl. The charges stemmed from incidents that occurred in the summer of 2002, when Mr. Hyde was visiting Maryland and Virginia from Idaho, where he had moved, according to Carroll County prosecutors.

Although prosecutors had sought a 22-year prison term, Carroll County Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. opted to suspend all but a year and half of a 15-year sentence he meted out to Mr. Hyde on Jan. 15.

The former school administrator has until the middle of next month to appeal his conviction, and to post bond. If he does, he faces arrest in Virginia, where investigators recently announced plans to try Mr. Hyde on sexual-assault charges related to the same series of incidents.

Although his lawyers could not be reached for comment last week, they have maintained his innocence.

—Jeff Archer

Suburban Chicago District Wins Baldrige Quality Award

Leaders of a suburban Chicago school district will be traveling to Washington to meet with members of the Bush administration after winning a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.

Community Consolidated School District 15, which serves seven towns around Palatine, Ill., won the award late last year. It is only the third school system ever to achieve the honor, which is bestowed under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Award organizers lauded District 15 for its success in raising student performance and for its innovative efforts to gauge parent, staff, and student satisfaction. In tracking what it calls its “market performance,” the district has shown that it spends less per percentage point of student achievement on state tests than comparable districts do.

An awards ceremony is planned for later this winter in Washington, though no date has been set.

—Jeff Archer

A version of this article appeared in the January 28, 2004 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A National Roundup


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