News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

February 06, 2002 3 min read

Ala. Board Takes a Stand, Favors Constitution Review

The Alabama board of education has endorsed the governor’s proposal to allow voters to decide if the state needs a new constitution.

“The Alabama Constitution of 1901 preserves a failed system for funding public schools and other governmental services, which forces them to suffer from inadequate and unpredictable funding,” declared the board’s resolution, which it approved on a 7-1 vote Jan. 24.

During his State of the State Address last month, Gov. Donald Siegelman, a Democrat and president of the state board of education, urged lawmakers to allow a referendum on whether Alabama should hold a new constitutional convention.

The board’s resolution backs that position, and calls on the legislature to allow consideration of a specific change to the state constitution that would give localities greater decision-making authority in raising taxes for education. Currently, before a locality can even put such a measure up for a vote locally, it must be approved by the legislature. The resolution says the requirement for legislative approval should be removed.

—Erik W. Robelen

Bartlett Leaves Md. Board

The Maryland school board elected Marilyn D. Maultsby as its new president last week, after Raymond V. “Buzz” Bartlett resigned from the board because of concerns over potential conflicts of interest with a new job, also in education.

Ms. Maultsby joined the board in 1999 and has been its vice president since August 2000. She is the executive director of the Maryland Healthcare Foundation, a group that promotes better access to health care and insurance.

Mr. Bartlett stepped down because he was concerned that his new job as president and chief executive officer of the Council for Basic Education, a Washington-based group that backs standards-based school improvement, could cause conflicts because of its contracts with Maryland school systems.

He had served on the board since 1997.

—Joetta L. Sack

N.J. Ruling Leaves Questions

The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that the state bears the responsibility for creating a plan to desegregate an Englewood city high school.

State and local school officials have been collaborating for months on a plan to open four academy-style schools in the Dwight Morrow High School building this fall.

In their Jan. 24 ruling, the state high court justices did not explicitly order the state to pay for the desegregation plan, and its funding remains an open question. In December, state Commissioner of Education Vito A. Gagliardi offered to have the state pay $5 million toward the plan, but local officials project it might cost five times that amount.

The ruling was the latest development in a 17-year legal battle over who has the ultimate burden of finding ways to bring more white and Asian students to Dwight Morrow. The school is 97 percent black and Hispanic. Most white children in the area attend private schools.

The case began in 1985, when Englewood Cliffs, which has no high school, asked the state to let it send high school students to Tenafly instead of to Englewood, which includes Dwight Morrow.

Englewood opposed that move and asked that the three districts be merged. Both requests were denied, and state officials repeatedly urged local school officials to find a voluntary solution.

—Catherine Gerwertz

N.D. Schools Face Violations

More than one-fifth of North Dakota’s 530 public schools are in violation of state fire codes and will not be able to open next fall until the problems are fixed, state officials told legislators last month.

Under a 1997 state law, schools are inspected every three years. Previously, schools were not inspected consistently, and some had gone decades without being checked by fire officials. The state fire marshal’s office began its second safety review cycle under the law last summer. Half of the 220 schools inspected had repeat violations ranging from improper storage of hazardous materials to failure to document fire drills. Schools must pass the inspections to maintain state accreditation.

“Because it was a new law, people didn’t know what kind of impact it could have,” said Anita Decker, the director of accreditation for the state department of public instruction. “The schools are very conscious of this now, and they’re really working hard to correct all the deficiencies.”

Problems that pose an immediate safety threat will be corrected immediately, said state officials. Districts have until Aug. 15 to correct the rest of the violations.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

A version of this article appeared in the February 06, 2002 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup