News in Brief: A National Roundup

March 17, 2004 5 min read
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Phila. Teacher Assignments Questioned in Complaint

A complaint filed last week with the U.S. Department of Education alleges that the Philadelphia school district’s system for assigning teachers violates the civil rights of minority children.

Schools serving the largest numbers of nonwhite students typically have the most uncertified teachers and the highest rates of teacher turnover, the Philadelphia-based Education Law Center says in a March 8 complaint to the Education Department’s office for civil rights.

"[Q]ualified and skilled teachers—the most crucial ‘input’ in the district’s instructional program—are inequitably distributed within the system, with more-qualified, more- experienced teachers going to the city’s lower-minority, lower-poverty schools,” the complaint says.

The complaint says that some of the blame for the inequities stems from seniority rules embedded in the 200,000-student district’s contract with its teachers’ union. Still, the complaint says it is the district’s responsibility to fix a teacher-assignment system that the Education Law Center contends violates minority children’s rights under Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Amy R. Guerin, a spokeswoman for the district, said last week that officials there had undertaken a range of recruitment and professional-development efforts that had sharply increased the system’s overall retention rate for teachers. She added that the district was negotiating a new contract with the teachers’ union, which could result in changes that would affect the distribution of teachers among schools.

—Caroline Hendrie

Petition Seeks Removal Of St. Louis Board Member

Rochell Moore, a member of the St. Louis school board, has been ordered to stay away from another board member and a top district administrator.

After Ms. Moore threw ice water onto Charlene Jones, an assistant superintendent in the 40,000- student district, Ms. Jones successfully sought a restraining order against the board member on March 5.

Ms. Jones was joined by Amy Hilgemann, a school board member, who alleged in St. Louis Circuit Court that Ms. Moore had threatened her.

The orders prohibit Ms. Moore from having contact with either woman.

According to local news accounts, Ms. Moore has said that she believes the two women are involved in a political plot that resulted in her being involuntarily committed for psychiatric treatment in October 2002.

Ms. Jones and 13 other people also petitioned the court last week to remove Ms. Moore from the board.

Ms. Moore, who was charged with misdemeanor harassment of her fellow board member, could not be reached for comment. District officials did not return calls for comment.

A hearing is set for March 24.

—Natasha N. Smith

Pittsburgh Hearings to Focus On Plan to Close 15 Schools

The Pittsburgh board of education will hold public hearings later this month on a proposal to close 15 schools in the city.

An analysis by the district found that it has space for 50,149 students, but an enrollment of only 34,619 this year—or an “excess capacity” of nearly 31 percent. And enrollment is projected to decrease over the next five years because of declining birthrates and population in the region.

The district administration is recommending closing 15 of 86 schools, which would save $8.1 million a year, trim 4,489 seats from the system, and cost 129 employees their jobs. Most of the buildings slated to be closed are elementary schools.

Previous attempts by Superintendent John Thompson and the school board to close schools were met with resistance. In 2001, the school board voted to close 11 schools, but three were reopened after new members were elected to the board.

This year, the district is spending nearly $16,000 for an analysis of its facilities- utilization plan by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and for a public relations firm that is helping to present it to the community, according to Pat Crawford, the district’s director of communications and marketing.

—Ann Bradley

S.F. Board Approves Proposal To Overhaul Three Schools

Members of the San Francisco board of education unanimously approved a resolution last week to support Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s plan to overhaul three low-performing schools.

The “Dream Schools” initiative involves closing the Charles R. Drew and Gloria R. Davis schools and the 21st Century Academy and opening them in August with rigorous programs for students in preschool through 12th grade. The schools will be modeled in part on the successful Frederick Douglass Academy in New York City.

The new schools will focus on accelerating students’ progress with high expectations, individualized academic plans, staff development, and community and parent involvement.

The schools serve the Bayview-Hunter’s Point neighborhood, one of San Francisco’s poorest. They will be reconfigured to serve students in prekindergarten to 3rd grade, grades 4-6, and grades 7-12, according to Roqua Montez, a spokesman for the 59,000-student district.

—Ann Bradley

Fla. Student Charged With Crime For Having Copy of State Test

A 14-year-old Florida boy has been charged with a felony after school officials found a state test booklet in his possession.

The 9th grade student at A.P. Leto Comprehensive High School in Tampa was spotted with a booklet for the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test, or FCAT, in a school hallway on March 4, the day he finished taking the exam, according to school officials.

He has been charged with burglary, petit theft, theft of intellectual property, which is a felony, and cheating on the FCAT, which also carries a felony charge.

Currently serving a 10-day suspension, the 9th grader could be transferred to an alternative school or expelled, although the latter is not likely, according to Dan Bonilla, the principal of the 1,860- student school.

The student’s test will be invalidated, said Mark A. Hart, the director of the 180,400-student Hillsborough County school district’s office of public affairs.

—Catherine A. Carroll

Boston Teachers Support Plan for One-Day Walkout

Boston teachers voted overwhelmingly last week to stage a one-day strike on March 23.

The city’s 4,800 teachers have been working under the terms of an expired contract since August. The last negotiations held between the Boston Teachers Union leadership and school district officials took place Feb. 15.

An affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, the union is asking for a three-year contract that would raise teachers’ base salaries by 9.7 percent. The district is countering with a three-year pay package that would increase teachers’ paychecks by 7 percent. The average teacher’s annual salary is $60,000.

Teachers plan to hold a rally in front of City Hall the day of the strike. The 60,000-student district will close schools that day, said Jonathan Palumbo, a spokesman for the district. It will be a professional-development day, however, and staff members are required to report for work or lose a day’s pay, he said.

—Karla Scoon Reid

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