News in Brief: A National Roundup

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N.M. To Manage Finances Of Santa Fe School System

The New Mexico education department has taken over financial authority for the 13,500-student Santa Fe district, citing serious concerns about the district's fiscal management and accountability.

Under the move, the district's elected school board will retain its power over policy, but the state will control the $54 million budget. Officials said the education department's action was unusual but not unprecedented for the state.

A routine independent audit of the district's financial records earlier this year uncovered several bookkeeping and accounting errors that led to an investigation by the department. The errors forced the district to cut just over $3 million from its 1999-2000 budget. Those cuts may affect programs for at-risk students.

Santa Fe officials said they have already taken several steps--such as hiring a new chief financial officer and tightening enforcement of fiscal policies--to correct past mistakes.

--Lynn Schnaiberg

Mass. Test Meets Standards

Massachusetts' teacher test is valid and reliable, according to a long-awaited technical report released last week.

Critics of the tests, which large proportions of prospective teachers have failed, had faulted the state for administering them without first issuing a report showing that they met the standards required of assessments.

Commissioner of Education David P. Driscoll said the 1,700-page document, provided by the testing contractor, National Evaluation Systems of Amherst, Mass., supports the state's assertions that the tests are in fact valid and reliable.

Mr. Driscoll said he would appoint an independent panel to review the testing program and would release sample questions next month from 24 of the subject tests to "demystify these tests and the testing process."

--Ann Bradley

Shipper Loses Student Tests

Federal Express has apologized to two groups of students for losing their standardized tests during the shipping process this summer and has tried to make up for the mess by sending each a $25 check.

The Memphis, Tenn.-based shipping company lost 695 SAT tests taken by students in June at a Gardena High School testing site in Torrance, Calif., and 75 Advanced Placement exams taken in May by students at a Cottonwood High School site in Salt Lake City, said Jess Bunn, a spokesman for Federal Express. The company has no records of either set of tests.

Both groups of tests, which are administered by the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, N.J., were apparently lost in transit. The company "is very sorry," Mr. Bunn said.

Federal Express and the ETS are also refunding the $23 registration fee, paying for a second round of tests, and mailing students free test-preparation packets, said Kevin Gonzalez, an ETS spokesman.

--Julie Blair

Judges Clear Calif. Teacher Test

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has upheld California's basic-skills test for teachers. The 2-1 decision by the San Francisco-based court last month upholds a district court ruling.

Both courts found that the test is a valid employment-screening device. They also agreed the test is not covered by federal civil rights laws because the commission that administers it does not receive federal funding.

A lawsuit filed by the Association of Mexican-American Educators in 1992 argued that the California Test of Basic Skills discriminated against prospective minority teachers, who failed the exam at higher rates than whites.

John Affeldt, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said his clients may appeal.

--Robert C. Johnston

Teacher Can Serve on Board

A Topeka teacher can serve on her district's school board, a Kansas judge has ruled.

The Kansas Association of School Boards tried to block 3rd grade teacher Linda Baker from taking her elected seat on the Topeka Unified School District 501 board last month. The group cited a 1973 state law that says board members can't be paid by the district.

Shawnee County Judge Marla Luckert ruled that while the law specifically prohibits some school officials, such as superintendents, from serving, it does not mention teachers. The judge acknowledged potential conflicts of interest, but said she could not supersede the will of the state legislature.

No school board member in Kansas is paid for that service. The district has not decided whether to appeal.

--Bess Keller

Program Feeding More Poor

Participation in federal summer-nutrition programs rose by 2.3 percent last year, but a large gap persists between the number of students served by the program and those who are eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals, according to a recent report by the Washington-based Food Research and Action Center.

Roughly 3.3 million children were served by the Summer Food Service and the National School Lunch programs, a 24 percent increase over participation in 1992. The report credits four states--Nevada, New Mexico, New York, and Rhode Island--and the District of Columbia with serving more than 40 percent of all eligible students in their jurisdictions.

Despite the gains, the two programs combined reach only about 22 percent of the students nationwide who receive free or reduced-price school lunches during the school year.

--Jessica L. Sandham

HUD Offers Houses to Teachers

Andrew M. Cuomo

Federally owned houses are being offered at half price to educators as part of a new effort to encourage urban teachers to live near where they work.

Launched this month, the "Teacher Next Door" program allows educators to buy houses from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at 50 percent of their appraised value if they are located in a HUD-designated "revitalization area"--urban neighborhoods with high crime and many low- to moderate-income families.

The department estimates some 6,000 homes are eligible, all of which the government took possession of when their previous owners defaulted on government-insured mortgages. To take advantage of the initiative, teachers must work in the school district served by the revitalization area and agree to live in the house for at least three years.

Based on a similar, 2-year-old program for police officers, the initiative "will attract teachers to live and work in urban districts where they are needed most, and will give them new opportunities to mentor their students outside the classroom," HUD Secretary Andrew M. Cuomo said.

--Jeff Archer


Frank M. Johnson Jr., a federal judge from Montgomery, Ala., known for landmark decisions that advanced the civil rights struggle against Southern segregation in the 1950s and 1960s, died July 23 at the age of 80.

Frank M. Johnson Jr.

Judge Johnson was perhaps most famous for his rulings during the Montgomery bus boycott in the mid-'50s and the historic voting-rights protests in Selma led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965.

He also presided over some pivotal school desegregation cases of the era, including one that prompted a showdown between Gov. George Wallace and President John F. Kennedy after the governor dispatched the National Guard to block the desegregation of a Tuskegee high school.

Judge Johnson expanded his rulings in that case, Lee v. Macon County Board of Education, to an order requiring the desegregation of schools statewide. Rulings he wrote in the case while serving on a special three-judge panel were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Wallace v. United States in 1967.

Two years later, the high court's affirmation of his decision in a faculty-desegregation case involving the Montgomery schools established a new standard for racial balancing of school staff members. In that case, Carr v. Montgomery County Board of Education, the judge's findings were singled out for unusual praise in the Supreme Court's ruling in 1969.

--Caroline Hendrie

John B. Maxwell, who served as the superintendent of the Dayton public schools when court-ordered desegregation began in 1976, died last month at the age of 88.

Mr. Maxwell began his career in the Ohio district in 1938, working as a teacher, athletic director, and elementary and high school principal before becoming superintendent in 1973. He was credited with smoothly ushering the district through its first years of busing.

Before retiring in 1981, Mr. Maxwell also introduced magnet schools to the district and helped establish the Patterson Career Center, a vocational high school.

--Jessica L. Sandham

Vol. 18, Issue 43, Page 4

Published in Print: August 4, 1999, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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