District News Roundup

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A Los Angeles Superior Court judge last week blocked the Los Angeles Unified School District from formally adopting a new contract with its teachers' union until it can find a way to pay for the $36 million deal.

The contract, negotiated by Speaker of the Assembly Willie Brown, headed off a threatened strike by L.A.U.S.D. teachers. Mr. Brown had promised to help the district identify money to fund the agreement, which would restore 2 percent of a 12 percent pay cut that was imposed on the members of United Teachers of Los Angeles last fall.

But the school district, faced with a huge budget shortfall, so far has been unable to come up with the money to pay for it.

The contract settlement was challenged in court April 19 by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which charged that it violated state law and constitutional prohibitions against localities' spending more money than they have.

Judge Diane Wayne set a hearing on the issue for May 5 and prohibited the district from signing the contract before then unless the agreement is amended to make the restoration of teachers' pay contingent on receiving the needed money or on receiving permission to spend restricted money.

Catherine M. Carey, a spokeswoman for the union, said teachers would vote this week on whether to accept a contract with contingencies or to strike. The strike would begin on May 7, she said.

Ms. Carey expressed confidence that the district would come up with the money, adding that teachers were "angry and frustrated'' at the delay.

In the meantime, district officials and Los Angeles County Superintendent Stuart Gothold said they were examining the possibility of using $40 million in state desegregation money and a possible increase in lottery revenue to pay for the contract.

A school district in New Jersey has been ordered to return two state grants that state officials allege were used inappropriately to lower the tax rate.

The state board of education this month directed that the Lyndhurst district repay a $1.5 million grant to the state education department and return another grant for the same amount to the municipality.

In 1991, the education department set up a grant pool of some $25 million to ease some school districts through the transition phase of a new state funding formula.

Lyndhurst applied for and was awarded the $1.5 million grant, which was supposed to be used to fund education programs.

Instead, state education officials charged, the district used the money to offset a reduction in the school tax rate.

As a consequence, John Ellis, the commissioner of education at the time, rescinded the grant.

Subsequently, the municipal government received a $1.5 million grant from the state department of community affairs and channeled that money to offset the school tax levy, according to the education department.

While the state school board ordered the district to return the money to the municipality, it noted that it lacked the authority to require the municipality to return the money to the state. As a result, local taxpayers may reap the rewards of having a lower municipal tax levy.

Lyndhurst school officials did not return telephone calls last week.

A school nurse was fatally shot inside an Acushnet, Mass., middle school this month, and two other school officials were briefly held at gunpoint before teachers overpowered the gunman, according to police.

Carole A. Day, 51, was shot in the back when she turned to leave after the alleged gunman, David Taber, entered the main office of Ford Middle School about 10:20 A.M. on April 14, said Michael Poitras, the local police chief.

After Ms. Day was shot, Mr. Taber, 42, allegedly forced the school's principal and librarian to walk down a hallway. John Tavares, the school's principal for 20 years, then grabbed the barrel of Mr. Taber's 12-gauge shotgun and wrested it from him.

Other teachers helped subdue Mr. Taber.

Mr. Tavares was hospitalized overnight for treatment of cracked ribs.

Mr. Taber, who was charged with murder and two counts each of assault with a dangerous weapon and kidnapping, did not confront any children during the incident, Chief Poitras said.

School in the quiet New Bedford suburb was closed for spring vacation last week.

Mr. Taber, who apparently did not know his victims, was being evaluated last week at a state prison to see if he is mentally competent to stand trial, Mr. Poitras said.

He said school officials are considering beefing up security at the school, which enrolls between 300 and 350 students.

Teachers in Dayton, Ohio, returned to their classrooms last week after district and union officials resolved a contract dispute that fueled a 16-day strike and caused student attendance to plummet in the city's 49 public schools.

About 98 percent of the Dayton Education Association's 1,900 members approved the pay hikes and health benefits in the plan before resuming classes, said G. Keith Haws, the president of the union.

"Over all, I think it's a good agreement,'' Mr. Haws said. "It was the best contract we could get under the circumstances.''

Jill Moberley, a district spokeswoman, said the compromise calls for an immediate 2 percent pay increase, retroactive to April 1; 4 percent increases in September 1993 and 1994; and a 5 percent pay raise in September 1995. She added that teachers will be awarded incentive pay of up to 2.5 percent of their salaries over the three-year contract.

Under the plan, the district also would phase in a 15 percent co-payment for teachers' health benefits.

Community leaders and school and union negotiators brokered the plan after absentee rates among the district's 28,000 students climbed as high as 63 percent, Ms. Moberley said.

Vol. 12, Issue 31

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