News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Okla. Districts To Get Millions From Company's Back Taxes

Two Oklahoma districts will share millions of dollars in back taxes after a settlement between the state and MCI WorldCom Inc.

The Owasso district, where the telecommunications giant has a corporate office, will get 61 percent of the $8 million settlement. The Tulsa district, where the company also has facilities, will receive a portion of the funds as well.

The company's 1997 and 1998 taxes have been in escrow while it challenged its listing as a public-service corporation by the state board of equalization, said Jeff Spellman, a division director with the Oklahoma Tax Commission. Public-service corporations, which generally include utilities and railroads, pay a higher tax rate than residences, agriculture, and small businesses, he said.

MCI WorldCom dropped its demand Dec. 1 to be locally assessed and agreed not to protest its tax status for two years. In return, the board lowered the valuation of the company's property by about 12 percent.

--Andrew Trotter

Earnings Gap Widens, Report Finds

The earnings gap between Americans with a college degree and those with only a high school diploma has grown significantly, the U.S. Census Bureau said in a report last week.

"Educational Attainment in the United States: March 1998 (Update)" said college graduates earned an average of $40,478 in 1997, compared with $22,895 for those with only a high school degree. College graduates now earn 76 percent more than high school diploma holders, up from 57 percent in 1975.

Advanced-degree holders earned an average of $63,229 in 1997, while those without a high school diploma averaged $16,124.

In the study, based on a survey of 50,000 U.S. households in March, the Census Bureau found that about 88 percent of all adults ages 25 to 29 had completed high school, while 27 percent in that age group had earned a college degree.

--Mark Walsh

Ga. Schools Placed on Probation

A regional accrediting body has placed the entire 24,450-student Cherokee County, Ga., public schools on probation.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools voted Dec. 7 to put the district on notice after a report from one of its special review teams cited concerns about the administrative and organizational climate in the district.

The report alleged that board members have used their power to administer the day-to-day operations of the schools, usurping the responsibilities of school and district administrators.

If the district north of Atlanta fails to correct the problems by this time next year, the SACS could strip accreditation from all of its 28 schools. That could hurt students' chances of winning college scholarships that require a diploma from an accredited high school.

District spokesman Mike McGowan said the district is trying to address the problems.

--Jeff Archer

Teacher Sues Over Starr Report

Kenneth W. Starr

A teacher is suing the Pinellas County school board in Florida over a directive that prohibits teachers from using materials detailing Special Prosecutor Kenneth W. Starr's investigation of President Clinton.

Linda Manning, who teaches a college-level American government class at East Lake High School in Tarpon Springs, asked a federal court in Tampa this month for an injunction, citing academic freedom guaranteed under the First Amendment.

The 110,000-student district sent a memo to teachers in September forbidding classroom use of the president's grand jury testimony or Mr. Starr's report, which includes sexually explicit details of Mr. Clinton's liaison with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky.

After an appeal to the school's principal was rejected, Ms. Manning complied with the rule but decided to challenge the district's authority to restrict teachers' use of instructional materials.

District officials said they cannot allow teachers to use such explicit materials in the classroom.

--Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Top Forms of Communication Between Parents & Teachers

A recent survey of 619 K-12 teachers found that technology has had little impact on the way teachers communicate with students' families. There is a 4 percent margin of error.

Students' Ethics at School

Source: Horace Mann Educators Corp.

Three Students Die in Accidents

Three students have died this month in school bus-related accidents.

Officials in Dayton, Ohio, are investigating the death of Walter Pendleton Jr., a student at a local charter school who was hit and killed by a school bus Dec. 1. The 6-year-old boy ran out in front of the bus after being dropped off at a day care center, a district spokeswoman said.

In De Kalb County, Ga., a 7-year-old girl who ran from her bus stop into the street was struck by a vehicle and killed Dec. 2. Shaniecia Allen had just been dropped off by her mother when she realized the bus parked at the stop was not hers, said a spokeswoman for the De Kalb public schools. She then ran back into the road and was hit by another vehicle.

And in Beaumont, Calif., 8-year-old Samantha Barnett was hit by a school bus while riding her bicycle home from her elementary school on Dec. 7, according to Beaumont schools Superintendent John Wood.

--Adrienne D. Coles

Youth-Services Booklet Recalled

Houston's schoolchildren aren't the only ones who need to improve their mastery of English.

City officials last week recalled and destroyed 2,000 full-color booklets discussing the mayor's youth programs because they were riddled with misspellings and grammatical errors.

Officials said the 14-page booklets, which cost $5,165 to print, were written and released without authorization by the director of youth services. The booklets were distributed to city offices and posted on the Internet.

Among the misspelled words were "library," "teaches," and "national," The Associated Press reported.

Laurie Fickman, a spokeswoman for the city, said Mayor Lee Brown had asked the state's inspector general to investigate the incident. Meanwhile, officials are revising the booklet.

--Julie Blair

Teen Sentenced in Shooting

State of Alaska An Alaska teenager convicted of killing a principal and a student during a February 1997 shooting spree at a high school has been sentenced to 210 years in jail.

Evan Ramsey, who was 16 at the time of the shootings, won't be eligible for parole for 52 years.

Many residents of the town of Bethel, in western Alaska, attended the Dec. 2 sentencing.

The widow of Bethel High School Principal Ron Edwards and the mother of slain student Josh Palacios both testified.

--Jessica L. Sandham

Private School To Return Funds

A Roman Catholic school in Chicago has decided to return "empowerment zone" funds to the city after questions were raised about whether the grant amounted to federal support for a religious cause.

The Cristo Rey Jesuit High School had planned to use most of the $400,000 grant to support its work-study program, through which its 264 students pay for the bulk of their education by working one day a week at a sponsoring organization or business.

When they approved the plan last spring, city officials agreed the school's program fit well with the aims of the federally funded empowerment-zone initiative, which supports urban renewal efforts. ("Private Schools," Nov. 11, 1998.)

A Chicago Sun-Times editorial, however, suggested the deal should "face a court test to settle the constitutional issues it raises." Though no lawsuit had been filed, the school's board of trustees voted Nov. 23 to return the money rather than risk getting mired in a legal controversy, school officials said.

--Jeff Archer

Youth To Play for Hometown School

A learning disabled student in Massachusetts can play ice hockey for his local high school, even though he attends a different school, a county judge ruled last week.

That ruling will allow Jason Galofaro, 18, to play for Hudson (Mass.) High School, which has a varsity hockey team that will give him the visibility to vie for a college scholarship. The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association requires students to play for the school they attend, to avoid creating powerhouse teams.

Because of a reading disability, Mr. Galofaro attends a nearby vocational-technical high school, which only has a junior varsity hockey team. His mother, Rosella Galofaro, said her son was thrilled with the decision.

The state athletic association warned that the decision could open doors for any student to transfer for the sake of a sports team.

--Joetta L. Sack

Reading Panel Receives Extension

The National Reading Panel has been granted a year's extension by the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, whose director oversees its work. The 15-member panel, which Congress authorized last year to identify sound research on effective ways of teaching reading, was initially expected to issue a report on its findings last month.

The panel said the delay is necessary to address the many concerns raised at dozens of public hearings and meetings around the country over the last year. Staff members say the panel expects to update Congress in February on its work and issue its final report in January 2000.

Some critics of the panel have questioned whether such an objective review of reading research can be achieved because the federal agency has financed many of the significant studies in the field. ("New National Reading Panel Faulted Before It's Formed," Feb. 18, 1998.)

--Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Groups Challenge Voting Scheme

Three civil rights organizations are suing the school board in Amarillo, Texas, charging that its system for board elections illegally dilutes minority votes.

The Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the League of United Latin American Citizens filed suit this fall in federal court. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People announced last month that it would join the lawsuit.

The groups want the board to change its at-large election system to one based on precincts so that areas with large minority populations would have a stronger voice. Three minority candidates lost their races for three board seats last spring.

Don Dean, a lawyer for the 29,300- student district, said it has no plans to change the 25-year-old system.

--Joetta L. Sack

Vol. 18, Issue 16, Page 4

Published in Print: December 16, 1998, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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