News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Pa. Court OKs Use of Dog In Locker Search for Drugs

A search of student lockers by school officials and police using a drug-sniffing dog does not violate the federal or state constitution, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled.

The case involves a 1994 sweep of lockers at Harborcreek High School in Harborcreek Township, Pa. School administrators, who suspected increased drug use among students, had asked state and local police to conduct the search of lockers.

The dog led officials to the locker of senior Vincent F. Cass. School officials opened the locker and found marijuana and drug paraphernalia.

Mr. Cass, then 18, was suspended from school and charged criminally with drug possession. Two lower courts granted his lawyer's motion to suppress the drug evidence, ruling the search unconstitutional.

But the state supreme court on Jan. 7 ruled 5-1 that the search was permitted under the "reasonable suspicion" standard set by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1985 decision in New Jersey v. T.L.O. and the guidelines for drug searches set forth by the U.S. justices in their 1995 decision in Vernonia School District v. Acton.

Feldman Resigns Local Post

After having served for more than a decade as the president of New York City's massive United Federation of Teachers, Sandra Feldman is stepping down.

Sandra Feldman

Officials at the 130,000-member UFT announced last week that Ms. Feldman was resigning from her post to devote full attention to her position as president of the union's parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers. The executive committee of the 940,000-member AFT appointed her to the position last May to fill out the remaining term of the late Albert Shanker, who died in February of last year. The term ends this July.

In a letter to UFT members, Ms. Feldman said she would continue to make New York City her home while leading the AFT, whose headquarters are in Washington, D.C.

The UFT's 89-person executive board plans to meet this week to nominate candidates for a successor, with a final decision slated to be made Feb. 2. A favorite is UFT Treasurer Randi Weingarten.

Audit Faults D.C. on Repairs

An independent audit of the District of Columbia's 1997 school construction program cites cost overruns of at least $7.2 million and unsound bidding practices.

The audit, which focused on repairs of fire-code violations last year, was requested by the financial-control board that oversees Washington's city government and its 77,000-student system.

The system's board of trustees, which was appointed by the control board in 1996, said the audit was based on incomplete records. The board also said that a superior court ruling last August forbidding roof repairs while students were in school forced construction to be done in a hurry, escalating costs.

The court decision prompted the system to open schools late for the third time in four years to complete the roof repairs.

Ongoing LEP Waiver Given

The California state school board has given an Orange County district the green light to continue with a program that uses mostly English to teach its students with limited English skills.

Two years ago, the 9,500-student Westminster elementary district won a state waiver of rules requiring schools to provide certain limited-English-proficient students instruction in their native languages.

The board, which usually grants two-year waivers, this month voted 6-0 to approve the K-8 district's petition for an ongoing waiver, provided the district continues to report student progress. The district provides its lep students with bilingual aides to help translate when needed. Roughly 45 percent of its students lack English proficiency.

"The board felt there was enough compelling evidence" to grant the permanent waiver, Bill Lucia, the board's executive director, said. If the board later decides the plan is not working, it can rescind the waiver.

Some critics said the district failed to meet its own goal for moving students into English proficiency. But district officials say that their transition rate is improving and that students are keeping up academically.

The state board's move is seen as significant in light of California's heated debate over bilingual education. Voters will face a ballot initiative in June that could virtually abolish bilingual education in the state's schools.

Juveniles' Records Swapped

The Chicago school board approved a school safety policy this month that calls for sharing information on young offenders with local police.

The decision allows administrators to release to police information, such as birth dates and parent's names, on students suspected of crimes. Police will, in turn, inform school leaders immediately if a student has been arrested or charged with a violent crime. That student could face expulsion and be transferred to an alternative school.

George Ruckrich, the district's director of safety and security, said the new arrangement will send a message to students that they should avoid getting into trouble.

Several districts around the country have instituted similar information-sharing agreements with police in recent years. Some youth-advocacy groups argue that the agreements deny young offenders an opportunity to redeem themselves by stigmatizing them at an early age.

W.Va. Sets Up for Takeover

The West Virginia school board has moved to take control of the Mingo County school system, but the troubled district has challenged the action.

In approving a possible takeover early this month, the state board pointed to four years of budget deficits, the third-lowest standardized-test scores in the state, and, according to an on-site review, poor leadership and teaching.

In a 3-2 vote, the five-member Mingo school board then asked for a hearing before state Superintendent Henry Marockie. The request followed the board's decision to demote the school system's superintendent to director of maintenance.

The 6,000-student district in the southwest corner of the state adjoins the Logan County district, which the state took over several years ago and has since returned to local control.

A hearing on the Mingo takeover will be scheduled for later this month.

Tax-Refund System Upheld

A funding formula that directs far more state sales-tax refunds to the Asheville, N.C., city schools than to the surrounding Buncombe County schools is constitutional, according to a state appeals court.

But the court's 2-1 split decision on Jan. 6 means that if the county school board files an appeal, the state supreme court must accept it, said Raleigh lawyer Brian C. Shaw, who represented the city of Asheville.

The county school board sued the county commission in 1995 over its practice of giving out sales-tax refunds to city and county schools based on their tax revenues instead of population.

The county school district enrolls 4,500 students, while the city district enrolls 2,300.

Because city residents pay an extra school tax that county residents abandoned in 1995, city schools received $1.4 million in sales-tax refunds that year, and county schools got none.

Mr. Shaw said the court rejected the county school board's argument that the sales-tax funding formula violated the equal-protection clause of the state constitution and conflicted with a state law on school finance.

Sausalito Recall Certified

Three members of the Sausalito, Calif., school board face a recall election in June, following a successful petition drive by a determined and diverse group of Sausalito and Marin City residents.

It was the second time in two years that citizens from tony Sausalito and the more racially and economically diverse Marin City have organized a recall-petition drive against the board. Last year's effort failed narrowly.

While Sausalito spends more per pupil than almost any other California district, recall leaders cite the 260-student system's low test scores, past discipline problems, and declining enrollment in arguing that board members should be removed from office. ("Dollars Don't Mean Success in Calif. District," Dec. 3, 1997.)

Two of the original five board members targeted resigned last fall.

The recall drive "says that in our communities, as diverse as they are, unless you get involved in the democratic process, nothing is going to change," said Shirley A. Thornton, a former deputy state superintendent for specialized programs and a recall leader from Marin City.

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