District News Roundup

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The Detroit school board, reversing itself again on the issue of hiring an interim superintendent for the financially troubled school system, voted 6 to 5 last week to offer a one-year contract for the post to John Porter, a former state superintendent of schools in Michigan.

There was no indication last week whether Mr. Porter, who is now on the staff of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, would accept the position.

The board also averted the possibility that it would be unable to meet its payroll this week by agreeing to allow the current state superintendent to order automatic cuts in the district's budget if the board is unable to reduce a $151-million deficit on its own.

State approval of a $42-million short-term loan for the district had been made contingent on the board's acceptance of the provision for state intervention.

Some 1,450 teachers and other staff members have received layoff notices under a deficit-reduction plan approved by the board late last month; it could take effect if voters reject a bond issue and levy increase in a June 20 special election.

The $49-million plan would also eliminate all student transportation, interscholastic athletics, and driver education, close four adult education centers and two special district schools, shorten the school day, and reduce a number of other instructional and counseling programs.

The Columbus, Ohio, school board has approved a "shake up" of the district's central operations that will eliminate 20 percent of administrative positions and shift 250 teachers now on special assignments back into the classroom.

The reductions, proposed by Superintendent Ronald E. Etheridge and approved by the board last month, are expected to save $2.5 million a year in salaries and fringe benefits. They are scheduled to go into effect by July 1990.

In addition, the district will be reorganized into six regions, each overseen by a "community of schools leader" who will be based in a school, not in the central office, explained Beverly Gifford, special assistant to the superintendent.

Subject-area supervisors also will be school-based and will move among facilities as "academic swat teams," she said.

The school leaders will be assisted by a reform manager, who will oversee reorganization efforts, and a community liaison who will handle personnel problems and complaints from parents, Ms. Gifford said.

A rural district in Idaho last week began construction of a new elementary school funded largely by private contributions.

The West Side School District of Franklin County, which encompasses four small towns in the southeastern corner of the state, had tried without success for more than 30 years to get voters to approve funding for the school.

Finally, residents suggested that the district try to finance construction by collectnations of roughly $1,500 per household. The idea caught on, and the towns of Oxford, Clifton, Dayton, and Weston--each of which has a population of about 300--competed to see who could collect more.

Some 30 percent of the district's residents pitched in and contributed $300,000, as well as a variety of building supplies. A farmer donated 20 acres for a school lawn.

The district also moved to erase its $300,000 debt, and voters approved a property-tax increase raising an additional $300,000.

The new Harold B. Lee Elementary School will replace a century-old elementary school that was condemned two years ago, and a 50-year-old facility that was in disrepair, said Travis D. Mitchell, business manager for the district.

The district still needs to raise another $100,000 for additions to the building, Mr. Mitchell noted.

Bus drivers, mechanics, and armed security guards for the New Orleans school system will be subject to random tests for illegal drugs, under a policy proposed to the Orleans Parish school board last week.

The new policy calls for drug tests for those employees during pre-employment screenings, annual physical exams, and when there is "reasonable suspicion" of drug use, according to Rose Peterson, a spokesman for the school system.

The rule will take effect July 1 if given final approval at the board's May 22 meeting.

A South Carolina man who killed two children during a shooting spree at an elementary school was sentenced to the electric chair last week.

Circuit Court Judge James E. Moore ordered the death penalty for James W. Wilson, 20, for shooting two 8-year-old children during a rampage at the Oakland Elementary School.

Mr. Wilson, who pleaded guilty to the killings, also received a 175-year prison term on several assault and weapons charges.

The assailant entered the school on Sept. 26, 1988, killing Shequila Bradley and Tequila Thomas and wounding seven stu6dents and two teachers.

A court spokesman said Mr. Wilson was the first person sentenced to death under the state's "guilty but mentally ill" law. Psychiatrists testified that Mr. Wilson, who had a long history of mental disturbance, was fascinated with mass murder and, although he was aware of what he was doing at the time of the shooting, was unable to stop himself.

Holding public-school classes in rooms rented from a Roman Catholic school violates students' constitutional rights by exposing them to a religious atmosphere against their will, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the Massachusetts Civil Liberties Union Foundation.

The lawsuit is directed against the Bridgewater school district, which last year began leasing part of the St. Thomas Aquinas Parish Center because of a shortage of space in its own facilities.

The case began when two families objected to having their children view Christian symbols while attending 3rd-grade classes in the church facility. Their requests for transfers to another school were rejected by district officials.

Although religious emblems in the eight rented classrooms are concealed by cloths, church-related symbols and announcements are visible in other parts of the school, according to the lawsuit.

Lawyers for the civil-liberties group were particularly critical of a provision in the lease agreement requiring that the school district's use of the building "at all times be consistent with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church enunciated by the Holy Father."

Bridgewater school officials last week declined to comment on the lawsuit.

A Boston principal who was not allowed to hire an all-female administrative team was the victim of sex discrimination, a hearing commissioner of the city's Human Rights Commission has ruled.

Diana Lam, who is now a zone superintendent for the district, filed a complaint in 1985 after officials rejected her choice of two women to be assistant principals at Charles Mackey Middle School.

The district said at the time that the management team lacked a male role model, Ms. Lam explained last week. But, she argued, the district had sanctioned "over a dozen all-male administrative teams."

The human-rights panel will formally consider the hearing commissioner's report and make a recommendation to Mayor Raymond L. Flynn, said James D. Williams, executive director of the commission.

The Milwaukee school board has approved a new set of reading textbooks that replaces a single basal series with a broader range of options.

The selections, which include two basals and one literature-based textbook as well as a per-pupil allocation for whole-language approaches, reflect a mixture of recommendations by a teacher committee and by Superintendent Robert Peterkin and Deborah M. McGriff, the deputy superintendent.

The panel of teachers and reading specialists had suggested two basal series and two literature-based series.

But the board last month approved the superintendent's proposal to adopt one literature-based series, one of the two basals selected by the committee, and another basal series he and Ms. McGriff recommended.

Because superintendents in the past have accepted the recommendations of the textbook committee, the modifications by Mr. Peterkin and Ms. McGriff sparked controversy among members of the group. But Ms. McGriff said she and the superintendent were justified in proposing changes because the panel was designed to be advisory.

A Moslem student can leave school each Friday to attend a local mosque, Arlington, Tex., school officials have decided.

The decision allows 14-year-old Shawn Ryan to be excused from classes at Carter Junior High School for several hours to attend prayer services.

Leon Morgan, executive director of pupil personnel services for the district, said last week that the district granted the request in order to comply with a state law allowing students to miss school on religious holidays if the practice is "a tenet of the faith." Under Islamic law, boys who have reached puberty must attend prayers on their Sabbath.

Faced with a lawsuit by a conservative advocacy group, the Vigo County, Ind., school board has reversed its policy of not allowing religious groups to use its facilities.

Concerned Women for America last month filed a federal lawsuit against the district after school officials refused to rent a high-school gymnasium for a performance by a Christian musician.

The group argued that the policy discriminated against Christians and other religious believers, since nonprofit and community groups were allowed to use facilities.

The Denver school system, together with the city and county governments, can keep $3.2 million in disputed property taxes paid by 11 airlines, the Colorado Supreme Court has ruled.

The airlines had filed suit seeking the return of taxes levied in 1982 on their property at Stapleton International Airport. They contended the assessment violated a 1982 federal law that prohibited airline property from being taxed differently than other commerical or industrial properties.

An appellate court agreed and ordered the district and the two jurisdictions to refund the money to the companies. But the high court ruled last month that the assessments were made before the federal statute was signed into law, according to Michael Jackson, a lawyer for the district.

Vol. 08, Issue 34

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