News Updates

February 07, 1990 4 min read

Two new state audits have confirmed charges that the Oakland, Calif., public schools are rife with mismanagement, and have detailed dozens of instances of improper, and in some case, illegal conduct by school officials and board members.

State auditors described the district’s practices as the worst they had seen in more than a decade of conducting similar investigations of school systems throughout the state, according to a spokesman for the office of state auditor.

The studies indicate that school officials misspent hundreds of thousands of dollars, and failed to seek millions more available to the district under various federal and state programs.

Among other problems, the auditors found that district officials have made improper payments to top-level school administrators, failed to monitor work contracted to outside firms, and allowed employees to steal school property and money.

The reports are expected to lead to additional arrests of school employees; 13 employees already face various criminal charges.

In addition, one of the reports may derail the district’s effort to secure state approval for its current-year budget because it questions the value of school property used as collateral against $10 million in bonds the district issued last fall.

Under a law passed by the California legislature last year, the Oakland district is currently operating under the supervision of an advisory trustee who could assume veto power over the district’s financial decisions if it does not win state approval for new financial and educational recovery plans. (See Education Week, Jan. 10, 1990.)

The Columbus, Ohio, school board has adopted a school-based management plan for its elementary and middle schools modeled on a similar plan now being piloted in its high schools. (See Education Week, March 1, 1989.)

Under the plan, decisionmaking authority will be extended to regional divisions of schools called “communities of schools.” Many district resources will not be distrib6uted purely on a per-pupil basis, but will go to the communities-of-schools level, where individual schools can “broker” for services to meet their needs before a council on student support services. For example, a school may exchange a nurse for a school psychologist.

Each council will be co-chaired by the communities-of-schools leader and one officer of the Columbus Education Association.

Under the new system, all elementary and middle schools are required to draw up a school-reform plan by March 31.

In the meantime, district officials next month plan to present a four-year blueprint that integrates the secondary- and elementary-reform plans, according to Karen Balko, director of contract relations for the district.

School districts must make reasonable attempts to consider seniority and licensure when reinstating teachers who have been laid off, the Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled.

The court’s Jan. 26 decision affirmed a ruling by the Minnesota Court of Appeals last June. (See Education Week, June 21, 1989.)

The case involved Howard E. Harms, a social-studies teacher in LaCrescent, who was laid off in 1986. He was replaced by a guidance counselor whose counseling position had been eliminated and who had more seniority than Mr. Harms. When the school district reinstated the guidance position in 1987, it filled the job with another laid-off counselor who had less seniority than Mr. Harms.

Mr. Harms and the Minnesota Education Association filed suit, arguing that the school district should have moved the counselor in Mr. Harms’s former position back to the guidance office and reinstated Mr. Harms in his teaching job.

A lower state court ruled that the district need not realign its staff in such cases, but that opinion was reversed by the court of appeals.

In its ruling, the state supreme court noted that, although school boards must consider seniority in reinstating teachers, it would be “unreasonable to realign during a school year if it would disrupt other classes and students.”

In addition to reinstating Mr. Harms, the m.e.a. noted that the ruling may help some of the state’s 1,500 teachers who are currently laid off to regain their jobs.

The Idaho Board of Education has voted to create an alternative route to teacher certification for people without formal training in education.

The board’s 6-to-2 vote last month reversed an earlier tie vote by which the board defeated the proposal. (See Education Week, Nov. 8, 1989.)

The plan calls for a four-member panel to develop individual study plans for prospective teachers, who will teach at the high-school level only. Each candidate for certification will be required to complete nine hours of coursework in education each summer, while serving a four-semester, paid internship in a school.

After a candidate has completed the coursework and internship, the panel will recommend whether the candidate should be licensed.

Raymond Buckey, a former teacher at the McMartin Preschool, will be retried on the 13 counts of molestation and conspiracy on which a jury reached a deadlock only two weeks before, prosecutors in Los Angeles announced last week. (See Education Week, Jan. 24, 1990.)

Mr. Buckey and his mother, Peggy McMartin Buckey, had been acquitted on 52 charges of child molestation in the longest and costliest criminal trial in U.S. history. But Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William R. Pounders declared a mistrial on 13 additional counts when the jury of three men and four women could not reach a verdict.

Parents of former McMartin pupils had since staged an intensive public campaign to have the case reopened.

Judge Pounders set a March 9 trial date.

A version of this article appeared in the February 07, 1990 edition of Education Week as News Updates