District News Roundup

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The Leonia (N.J.) school system is looking for a few good students. And it has decided to recruit them.

It has sent a letter to the parents of students living in bordering school systems, encouraging them to consider enrolling their children in a school system that sends 75 percent of its students to college.

"We were trying to reach parents who are sending their children to private school or who are considering it," a spokesman said. "We think we can offer an alternative to private school at a reasonable price." The Leonia schools would charge tuition for children who live outside its boundaries.

School officials in nearby Northern New Jersey towns such as Englewood and Englewood Cliffs aren't happy with the scheme. They contend that it threatens to disrupt school-desegregation efforts in their areas by luring away affluent white students from their public schools.

Leonia school officials say they do not know how many parents have responded to the solicitation letter, which was mailed in May. The district's enrollment has declined by 300 to 1,300 over the past few years.

Trustees of the 32,000-student San Jose Unified School District voted unanimously to file for bankruptcy late last month.

The district, California's eighth largest, owed $3.5 million in back pay to 2,900 teachers and other employees and would have faced a deficit of up to $12 million next year, according to school officials. (See Education Week, June 1, 1983.)

The district's immediate cash problems followed an arbitrator's ruling that it must pay the 6.1-percent raise for 1982-83 and 6-percent for the new fiscal year that it agreed to under a three-year contract.

After filing the bankruptcy petition, the school board voted unanimously to roll back salaries to 1981-82 levels.

The San Jose Teachers Association and the California School Employees Association this month filed a complaint with the state's Public Employee Relations Board to prevent salaries from falling to pre-arbitration levels.

"A salary rollback violates the school district's duty to bargain in good faith," according to Priscilla Winslow, the lawyer for the California Teacher's Association. She said the district is "blatantly disobeying the arbitration award."

But Hilda Beck, assistant superintendent for personnel and employee relations for the San Jose district, said the school board has "from the beginning" stressed its commitment to pay the salary increases "when it has the money."

On Aug. 8, the date set for hearings in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in San Jose, the unions are likely to challenge the district's claim that it has no funds.

If the judge in the case rules that the district is bankrupt, Chapter 9 of the Federal Bankruptcy Act will protect the school district from creditors while officials work out a payback plan, which must be approved by a bankruptcy judge.

The district is planning to sell property over the next few years to pay the salary raises for 1981-82, according to Thomas M. Griffin, the school district's attorney, who previously was chief counsel for the California Department of Education.

He noted that the "unique feature" of Chapter 9 of the bankruptcy code is that "things will continue as usual. The court does not take over. The district will receive its 1983-84 income as if bankruptcy has never been filed."

The district must balance its budget for the current year, Mr. Griffin said, adding that it could receive between $2 million and $2.8 million in state aid if Governor Deukmejian signs an $800-million emergency appropriations bill for education. (See story in this issue.)

That money would have to be used for the 1983-84 year and could not be diverted to pay off last year's salary increases, because the state has a provision that stipulates that funds must be used for the fiscal year in which they were allocated.

San Jose Unified is the first district in the state's history--and among the first nationally--to declare bankruptcy.

Arguments ended June 30 in an American Civil Liberties Union challenge to the Bible-study classes that have taken place for 41 years in the Bristol, Va., school district.

The aclu is charging that the classes--in which 4th and 5th graders take part in a series of nondenominational Bible lessons on school property--violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Supporters of the classes say the Bible is taught in "a historical and literary sense" in the classes.

After a four-day trial, the federal district-court judge presiding over the case indicated that he would try to decide the case "quickly" to give school officials enough time to plan in light of his decision.

A May earthquake that partially leveled a California town of 7,000 "miraculously" struck at 4:45 P.M. after the children had left school, and no one was hurt, said Superintendent Robert Vert.

But the district, the Coalinga-Huron Joint Unified School District near Fresno, is left with $2 million in damages to three of its four schools, said Mr. Vert. Water and gas systems were completely destroyed, he added, and glass walls and lighting fixtures crashed down in many rooms. State and federal aid for repairs will be available, officials said.

As a result of the earthquake experience, the district will change its rules for emergencies. Parents will be expected to come to the schools to pick up their children rather than waiting for them at home, said Mr. Vert. Allowing children to walk home alone in the quake's aftermath would have panicked them unnecessarily, he said.

Vol. 02, Issue 39

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