District News Roundup

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Nearly 40 percent of high-school freshmen in Chicago public schools failed at least two of their courses last year, according to an unreleased report given to the city's school board this month.

On a citywide basis, 39 percent of last year's freshmen failed at least two courses, according to the Chicago Tribune, which obtained a copy of the report. But in 18 of the city's 64 high schools the rate was even higher, with half of the freshmen failing two or more subjects, the paper reported.

The figures in the report show an increase in freshman course failures of 36.8 percent over the 1983 rates, the article stated. The failure rate for all high-school students also increased, according to the report, with some 28.7 percent of all high-school students failing two or more classes last June, up from 27 percent in 1983.

The report, which school officials say was not supposed to be made public, was presented to the school board by outgoing Superintendent of Schools Ruth Love, the Tribune reported.

It follows a recent study by a child-advocacy group, which estimated that nearly half of the city's 1980 high-school freshmen eventually dropped out of school. (See Education Week, March 6, 1985.)

Wake County, N.C., officials are investigating allegations that local cab companies have deliberately3overbilled the school system, charging it for transporting children to and from schools they did not in fact attend.

Earlier this month, the Raleigh Times reported that during the 1983-84 school year eight cab companies billed the schools for transporting students who were absent from school. Other companies, the newspaper reported, charged for transporting at least 75 students who no longer lived in the area or were not enrolled in the schools the cab companies said they attended.

The Raleigh Times investigation found that schools had routinely been billed the standard $8-per-day fee when students in the program missed school days, even though under state law the companies are not allowed to charge for absent students.

As a result of its investigation, the newspaper reported, Wake County school officials have instituted a half-payment rule allowing companies to charge half of the usual fee when they drive to the homes of students who are not then transported to school.

Both state and local officials are investigating the reported overbilling. J. Randolph Riley, the Wake County district attorney, said those found to have deliberately overbilled the school system could be charged with obtaining property by false pretenses, a felony.

Students and faculty at the New Bedford (Mass.) Regional Vocational Technical High School are receiving counseling from local psychologists and mental-health volunteers in the wake of a student's classroom suicide.

A 17-year-old senior, Bruce Perry, shot himself in the head March 6 while fellow students watched. The teacher had left the classroom to summon help. Known as a popular student with good grades, the teen-ager died two days after the shooting.

Jeffrey E. Riley, superintendent-director of the school, said the Samaritans, a volunteer suicide-prevention organization, spoke to large groups of students and staff members at the school for about four days after the shooting.

Four psychologists from nearby Southeastern Massachusetts University also volunteered their time to work with individual staff members and students who seemed to be having difficulty adjusting, he said.

The superintendent would not comment on whether the student had sought counseling before the suicide, but said, "I don't think we'll ever know why he did it."

The school offers programs onteen-age suicide as part of a general curriculum on drug and alcoholbut is still deciding whether to institute a long-term suicide-prevention program, Mr. Riley said.

Faced with an $83,000 deficit, the Lake Park school district has chosen to follow the lead of several others in the state and implement a four-day school week next fall.

According to J. Gene Halvorson, district superintendent, the four-day week will be a one-year temporary measure that could save the schools about $55,000 and "help us get back in the black."

Voters will also be asked March 28 to approve a two-year, 5-mill increase in the property tax thatraise another $170,000 for the schools, Mr. Halvorson said.

A rural farm community, Lake Park has experienced a 27-percent drop in enrollment over the last eight years, Mr. Halvorson said, costing the district a substantial amount of state aid. The proration of state aid has also hurt the district, he said.

The district has already cut staff and programs, Mr. Halvorson said. The four-day week will further reduce costs in transportation. energy, food, and maintenance.

With the four-day week, the number of school days will fall from 170 to 148, but each day will last 45 minutes longer, Mr. Halvorson said. Continued on Following Page Continued from Preceding Page

That will allow the district to meet minimum hourly requirements set by the state.

The district's debt--nearly 6 percent of its $1.4-million operating budget--more than doubles the debt limit Minnesota school districts are allowed to carry, the superintendent noted.

Seven schools in the state currently operate on a four-day week, under the terms of a two-year-old law that allows the practice primarily for financial reasons, according to the state Department of Education.

Although a curfew remained in effect, the town of Ludowici, Ga., had returned to "very near normal" last week, officials said, after a week of racial violence touched off by a lunchroom brawl in a high school.

Several people were arrested and 19 students--11 blacks and 8 whites--were suspended from Long County schools in the aftermath of the March 8 melee, which drew members of the Ku Klux Klan and state police to the small, southeastern Georgia town.

The Klan arrived to pass out leaflets assuring white residents and students that they would be protected, and state troopers and police from neighboring communities were on hand to help keep the peace, according to press reports.

The city council imposed an 8 P.M. to 5 A.M. curfew on alcohol sales, meetings, and carrying weapons. The school, which was closed for two days, reopened last week under tight security. But a district spokesman said attendance was low.

The local school board held a special meeting to discuss the situation with parents, but took no action. Superintendent of Schools Joseph Murray said he had a plan to deal with racial tension in the schools but wanted to implement it before discussing it with the press.

Mr. Murray said he did not know what had triggered the outbreak of violence at the school. A spokesman added that the town had "no history" of racial violence.

Affirmative-action contracting guidelines adopted by the Philadelphia Public Schools last July have dramatically increased the number of minority- and female-owned firms doing business with the district, according to school officials.

In a report recently presented to the city's board of education, officials in the district's office of minority and women's business development noted that minority-owned firms have received $4.36 million, or 9.8 percent, of the district's primary contracts and subcontracts since July 1. Businesses owned by women received $6.6 million, or 15 percent.

According to a spokesman for the district, only 1 percent of the school system's contracts and subcontracts were awarded to minority- and female-owned businesses before the guidelines were adopted. The district had anticipated that in the first year of the program minority businesses would win about 5 percent and female-owned businesses about 2.5 percent of the contracts.

The guidelines adopted by the school district are similar to those governing the awarding of federal contracts in specifying quotas. The Reagan Administration, which has repeatedly criticized the use of quotas in affirmative-action programs, indicated in its fiscal 1986 budget proposals that it "will work to achieve substantial reform" of the federal program.

An Ashe County, N.C., school bus driven by a 17-year-old student rolled over last week, injuring 22 high-school students, after the student driver was distracted by a group of passengers who "were cutting up," a school official said.

According to Onley H. Burgess, director of transportation for the county board of education, the injured students were taken to a local hospital, where all but one were treated for minor injuries and released. The student admitted to the hospital was released a few days later, Mr. Burgess said.

The driver, who wore a seat belt and was the only occupant not injured, was cited for reckless driving by the state highway patrol. He is one of 30 students hired by the county to drive school buses, out of a total of 76 drivers.

"There has been talk of replacing the student drivers with adult drivers," Mr. Burgess said. "This may have some bearing on that decision."

Ater the bus left the road, it rolled over once and came to rest upright against several trees, Mr. Burgess said. The vehicle was not badly damaged, he added.

Find One-Third of 45. Add 15. Divide by 6. Multiply by 25.

Vol. 04, Issue 27

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