News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

May 21, 1997 3 min read

State Appoints Hartford Oversight Board

A retired wine and spirits company executive will chair the new panel that Connecticut state officials hope will set the Hartford public schools on the road to improvement.

Republican Gov. John G. Rowland and legislative leaders this month appointed Robert M. Furek, 54, a former chief executive officer of Heublein Inc., to lead the board that will manage the troubled district. Connecticut lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a measure last month that calls for the intervention. (“Conn. Bill To Seize Hartford Schools Passes,” April 23, 1997.)

Gov. Rowland and the lawmakers also named six other members to the new board of trustees, including a former deputy state commissioner of education and a former principal of two Roman Catholic schools in Hartford.

The new board, which needs no further approval by the legislature, will assume power June 1 when the locally elected Hartford school board is dissolved. The appointed body has authority to run the 24,000-student district for at least three years.

Pa. Boosts School Spending by $90 Million

Gov. Tom Ridge has signed a $17 billion state budget for Pennsylvania that will raise K-12 spending to $7.2 billion, or $90 million--1.3 percent--above last year’s levels.

Spending on vocational education will increase to $44.6 million, from $39 million, and funding to reimburse schools for capital projects will rise from $225 million to $240 million. New anti-violence initiatives will get $5.2 million.

But the 1997-98 spending plan, which the Republican governor signed May 6, is not without controversy. Legislators set aside about $1.4 million in the K-12 budget in anticipation of passage later this year of a sharply contended bill to create the state’s first charter schools. The legislature does not adjourn until fall. A similar bill failed to pass last year.

Ill. Appeals Court Revives ACLU Lawsuit

A state appeals court has revived a lawsuit that says Illinois and the East St. Louis school district fail to provide an adequate education for the city’s children.

The suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois was dismissed by a trial court in St. Clair County in 1995. But on May 2, the Fifth District Appellate Court reinstated the case, saying a trial should determine whether children are receiving a “minimally adequate” education as guaranteed in the Illinois Constitution, said Susan Wishnick, a lawyer for the ACLU of Illinois.

Kim E. Knauer, a spokeswoman for the state school board, said last week that the board had asked the state attorney general to appeal the decision to the Illinois Supreme Court. East St. Louis Superintendent Geraldine Jenkins could not be reached for comment last week.

The district has also skirmished with a state-appointed watchdog panel charged in 1994 with addressing financial problems in the 13,000-student district. On May 6, the panel filed a motion challenging a circuit court decision that the panel overstepped its authority by hiring an outside accounting firm to run the district’s business office, said the panel’s chairman, Richard J. Mark. The panel has asked an appeals court to review the circuit court order.

Mo. Schools Agency Denies Wrongdoing

The Missouri education department last week strongly denied a whistleblower’s accusations of “money laundering” and mismanagement, which have prompted investigations by the state auditor and legislature.

The charges were levied by a department employee, Chris Schroeder, in documents, videotapes, and public statements to several state officials and lawmakers.

“We found no evidence of misconduct in any of the cases identified by Mr. Schroeder, and we deeply regret that he and others have chosen to characterize our business operations in this manner,” Mark Van Zandt, the department’s general counsel, said in a written statement May 14.

However, the department acknowledged in a report sent to Gov. Mel Carnahan, a Democrat, and other state officials that a “few” grants or contracts “were poorly written or lacked appropriate written procedures.” The report came out just two days before the legislature was scheduled to pass the state budget.

Earlier this month, Mr. Schroeder testified before a group of lawmakers. State Auditor Margaret Kelly began a separate review of the education department’s books on May 12.