District News Roundup

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A tax dispute with the giant Allied-Signal Corporation has created a fiscal crisis for a small New York school district.

Schools in Solvay, a tiny community near Syracuse, were left with a 34 percent budget shortfall for the current fiscal year after Allied-Signal refused to pay $1.4 million in property taxes.

Officials of the corporation, which last year closed a 100-year-old chemical plant located in the district, argue that Allied-Signal is entitled to a sizable reduction in its tax assessment because it is preparing to demolish the factory.

Although the company submitted a partial payment of the disputed bill, local authorities were required under state law to return the check. "We will be facing cash flow problems for the rest of the school year," Leonard Costantini, the district superintendent, said last week. With most of the budget locked in by teacher contracts and purchases of necessary supplies, he added, the district has few options.

Under New York law, Mr. Costantini said, counties must reimburse school districts for any uncollected tax revenues. The county payment owed to Solvay, however, is not due until April. Until then, he said, the district will have to borrow funds on the commercial market to make ends meet.

Responding to an order by a county judge, school officials in Portland, Ore., have given a local television station statistics showing student test scores and grade-point averages by racial group.

Lars Larson, a reporter for station KPTV, last month filed a petition seeking the information with the Multnomah County district attorney's office after school officials refused to disclose the data. A county court ruled in the reporter's favor this month.

The figures released by the district showed a considerable gap in mathematics and reading scores between black and white students. In math, for example, 74.9 percent of the white students scored above the national average on standardized tests, compared with 38.2 percent of the black students.

After the television station aired a news story on the findings, officials of the Black United Front, a local community-based organization, announced that they would organize private Saturday classes for inner-city youths in an effort to boost black achievement. Leaders of the group also called on the school board to hire specialists experienced in addressing the problems of economically disadvantaged students.

Fifteen girls who were strip-searched at a junior high school in Elyria, Ohio, will receive $5,000 each as part of a legal settlement with the district.

The payments, approved this month by the Lorain County Probate Court, will be held in a trust fund for 14 of the students, because they are under the age of 18. Freddie M.W. Springfield, a lawyer for the students, said an undisclosed sum would also be paid to each of the girls' families.

The students sued the district in 1985 after being strip-searched by teachers at Westwood Junior High School who were looking for a missing watch and ring.

Ms. Springfield said no settlement had been reached in a separate suit against two of the three school employees who conducted the search.

U.S. District Judge Henry Woods has appointed a special master to oversee the desegregation of the Little Rock, Ark., public schools and to devise a way to integrate seven schools that remain predominantly black despite implementation of a new student-assignment plan this fall.

Aubrey V. McCutcheon Jr., a Detroit lawyer with experience in several major school-desegregation cases, was named to the newly created post after a citizens' advisory panel told Judge Woods it was unlikely that the schools could be integrated this year.

In a separate development, George D. Cannon, former superintendent of schools in Meridian, Miss., was named acting superintendent of the district this month. Now an associate professor of education at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, Mr. Cannon plans to continue teaching while serving in the interim post.

New York City Schools Chancellor Nathan Quinones has notified officials of 16 elementary and intermediate schools that they face closure or a redesign if they fail to meet specific targets this school year for raising student test scores and attendance rates.

The action this month is the latest taken under the chancellor's minimum-standards program, which is designed to stimulate improvements in schools that are under the direct control of community school boards, rather than the central administration.

Of the five schools placed "on notice" by Mr. Quinones last year, three were judged to have made sufficient improvement by year's end, one was redesigned by the local superintendent, and one was closed but subsequently reopened by order of a state judge. The central board of education is appealing that ruling.

Vol. 07, Issue 08

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