District News Roundup

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Disgruntled parents in Detroit have begun a recall effort to unseat four school board members who support the establishment of specialized programs at certain "empowered'' schools.

The parents leading the recall drive have accused Penny Bailer, April Howard Coleman, Ben W. Washburn, and Alexander Wright of shortchanging neighborhood schools throughout the city while spending more on a few schools that house innovative programs.

The recall petition also accuses the board members of breaking promises not to make additional cuts in district spending that directly affects schools.

The four board members named in the recall petitions have been associated with the board's HOPE slate, which saw three of its four members running in at-large elections defeated in November after they ran afoul of school-employee unions and other labor groups in their pursuit of school reform.

General Superintendent Deborah M. McGriff, who was hired by the HOPE team and campaigned on its behalf, this month issued an open letter denying allegations that the district is unfairly directing its resources toward a few elite schools.

Ms. McGriff also wrote that "my only desire is to build bridges,'' and denied reports that she has made a priority this year of fighting the Detroit Federation of Teachers, which had a significant role in the HOPE team's defeat.

A New York City community-district superintendent who was the focus of city and federal investigations was found dead in an Albany, N.Y., motel room Jan. 7, an apparent suicide.

A local coroner ruled the death of Alfredo Mathew Jr., 59, suicide by suffocation.

Mr. Mathew had headed District 12 in the South Bronx since 1990, where he was appointed to help combat the district's longtime mismanagement and corruption.

Previously, he became the city's first superintendent of Puerto Rican descent when named to take over District 3 on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Mr. Mathew was known for his vocal support of civil-rights and urban education.

City and federal panels investigating Mr. Mathew's tenure at District 12 allege that he misspent more than $100,000 from a city-funded housing program for AIDS patients. They charge that Mr. Mathew spent the funds on personal expenses, including restaurant meals and campaign contributions.

Mr. Mathews had denied the charges.

The superintendent was in Albany to attend Governor Mario M. Cuomo's State of the State Address when city and federal investigators subpoenaed his personal records from his office.

According to a district spokesman, federal and city officials will continue their investigation.

An Indiana school district's longtime practice of allowing Gideon Bibles to be distributed to students violates the U.S. Constitution, a federal appeals court has ruled.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit overturned a ruling by a federal district judge upholding the Bible distribution in the Rensselaer Central school district.

Representatives of the Nashville-based Gideons International had distributed Bibles to Rensselaer students for years, but the group suspended the practice there after a lawsuit was filed in 1990 by a parent, Allen F. Berger, on behalf of his two children in the school system.

The Gideons were not a party to the lawsuit, which alleged that by permitting the Bible distribution, the Rensselaer district violated the First Amendment's ban on any government establishment of religion.

The federal district judge had ruled that permitting the Gideons to distribute Bibles in classrooms was no more offensive than allowing Little League representatives to discuss baseball.

"Such a conclusion is tone deaf to the Constitution's mandate that the government must not establish a state religion, and is utterly insensitive to the special concern about coercive influences on impressionable public school children,'' wrote Judge Walter J. Cummings on Jan. 5 in the unanimous appeals-court ruling in Berger v. Rensselaer Central School Corporation.

Two former employees of an all-boys Roman Catholic high school in Wisconsin have been charged with sexual offenses following allegations leveled by former students.

The accused are both members of the Capuchin religious order, which runs St. Lawrence Seminary in Mount Calvary, near Fond du Lac.

Brother Thomas Gardipee, 35, faces a felony charge of enticing a child and a misdemeanor charge of intimidating the victim, according to a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office in Fond du Lac.

Charged with felony second-degree sexual assault is Brother John Raniszewski, 40.

Brother Gardipee, a teacher and athletic director, had been at the school from 1981 until his removal last month, when an article in the Milwaukee Journal newspaper made public allegations against him and four other school employees that stemmed from incidents going as far back as the 1970's, said Brother Mark McDonough, the secretary-treasurer of the Province of St. Joseph of the Capuchin order in Detroit.

Brother Raniszewski had been a nurse in the school infirmary in the 1985-86 school year, Brother McDonough said.

Two of the other three alleged abusers are deceased. The third, the Rev. Gale Leifeld, was removed from the seminary staff more than 10 years ago and is currently undergoing professional counseling, provincial officials said.

The charges, filed this month, are based on incidents that allegedly occurred in 1986 and 1987. Both men are free pending a Jan. 19 court appearance, said the district attorney's spokeswoman, who did not want to be identified.

Capuchin officials acknowledge that sexual abuse has occurred at the school in the past, but neither accused man has commented publicly on the charges.

A federal district judge has denied a claim by a high school basketball star in Pittsburgh that he has a constitutional right to play the sport.

U. S. District Judge Donald Ziegler ruled in favor this month of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association and the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League in their decision to bench the Shaler High School basketball star for recruiting violations.

Danny Fortson, a junior at the school and an all-state center, brought a federal lawsuit against the athletic associations after they declared him ineligible to play until Dec. 22, 1993.

The regional league ruled that Mr. Fortson was improperly lured from Altoona High School to Shaler High. Officials of Butler High School, which competes with Shaler, had challenged the transfer last December. The state league upheld the regional's decision.

Mr. Fortson, considered one of the nation's top 50 underclassmen in basketball, argued that the academic-sports organizations violated his constitutional right to play basketball. He also alleged that he was discriminated against because he is African-American.

Judge Ziegler dismissed both charges. He noted that a white player was also suspended last year for an improper transfer. The judge also held that both athletic groups have legitimate interests in regulating high school recruiting, and that Mr. Fortson's suspension from competitive basketball will not hurt his chances of getting a college scholarship.

A state arbitration panel's decision to override teachers' requests for a salary increase and rule in favor of the Windham, Conn., schools has been described by both sides as a landmark ruling.

But while school officials said the panel's approval this month of a wage freeze will bring the town's finances into line, the teachers said the ruling could have a negative impact on education in "financially distressed'' communities in the state.

"I look at it as historic, because arbitration was changed for the first time,'' said Bill Skoog, the president of the Windham Federation of Teachers. "The first priority or consideration now is the town's wealth.''

"The state seems to be saying, 'If the town is poor, rule against the teachers,''' he said.

Mr. Skoog said the ruling could drive the best teachers into wealthier communities, where salary hikes might be guaranteed.

Patrick Proctor, the superintendent of the Windham schools, said the panel's decision made sense "given the town's extremely limited capacity to pay'' for the 2.7 percent increase teachers were requesting for the 1994-95 school year.

"We're among the poorest towns in Connecticut,'' added Mr. Proctor. But "in terms of our county, our pay is very high for teachers.''

An Indiana district's superintendent and several administrators have been charged with felonies and misdemeanors in connection with an unusual scheme to sell back their unused vacation time to the school system.

The Howard County district attorney's office discovered the alleged scheme during an unrelated investigation of a job-training program run by the Kokomo-Center Township Consolidated School Corporation.

Investigators charge that Superintendent Larry Horner illegally authorized some $12,000 in checks to an assistant superintendent and two administrative assistants to pay them for their accrued vacation time. Two employees of the district's finance office have also been charged with aiding the conspiracy.

Mr. Horner faces charges of aiding and inducing theft, conspiring to commit theft, and receiving stolen property, along with two misdemeanor counts of official misconduct. He faces a maximum of three years in prison.

All the district employees involved have been placed on administrative leave with pay pending an internal investigation.

Mr. Horner and at least one of the others charged have denied the allegations.

Vol. 12, Issue 17

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