News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Pa. Teachers Prepared To Strike Past Deadline

Teachers in Wilkinsburg, Pa., finished a fourth week on strike last week as a deadline loomed to return to work.

Union members in the 2,000-student district outside Pittsburgh have worked under the terms of an expired agreement for six years. They want a new contract that would make their salaries competitive with those in surrounding districts in Allegheny County, said Mary Jane Hyrczyk, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

Under Act 88, the state's bargaining law, teachers can strike until the lost instructional days would push the final day of school to June 15. That deadline loomed late last week.

If no settlement is reached, the teachers are supposed to return to work under nonbinding, mandatory arbitration.

But Arleen Starr, a labor negotiator for the Wilkinsburg Education Association, said teachers have decided to await a court injunction to force them back to work.

--Ann Bradley

Suit Filed Over Prayer Clubs

The Louisiana ACLU has filed a federal lawsuit against the Tangipahoa Parish school board over lunchtime prayer-club meetings held at four of the district's schools.

The weekly meetings are sponsored by a minister who brings free pizza for students.

"Schools cannot be in the business of religion," Joe Cook, the director of the Louisiana ACLU, said. "They have to be neutral."

Chris Moody, a lawyer for the 18,000-student Tangipahoa Parish district, said school board members were planning to fight the suit, filed last month in U.S. District Court in New Orleans, because they believe the prayer group is run like any other school club.

--Candice Furlan

Foundation To Aid Urban Schools

A new foundation recently set aside $100 million to help improve urban school systems.

Eli Broad, the chairman and chief executive officer of Sun America, an investment firm in Los Angeles, put $100 million into the Broad Foundation to look into management, leadership, and governance issues in urban districts.

Interviews with superintendents, politicians, business people, and researchers in 10 states and cities are currently being conducted to discuss some possible uses for the money, according to Sibyll Carnochan, a consultant with the foundation. Foundation officials hope to award grants by January.

--Candice Furlan

Gay and Lesbian PTSA Formed

The Washington State PTA has granted a charter to a chapter in Puget Sound aimed primarily at addressing the needs of local homosexual students and their parents.

The Gay and Lesbian Parent Teachers Student Association is the first organization of its kind in the country, according to Jim Carpenter, a spokesman for the Tacoma-based state PTA. Other states have begun discussing forming similar groups, he said.

Mr. Carpenter said the Washington state organization, which has 900 local chapters, has formed PTAs for other specific groups, including senior citizens and preschools.

--Michelle Galley

Kinkel Pleads Guilty to Murder

Kipland P. "Kip" Kinkel, the Springfield, Ore., teenager who killed his parents and two of his fellow high school students last year, has dropped his insanity defense and admitted his guilt.

Mr. Kinkel, 17, pleaded guilty Sept. 24 to four counts of murder and 25 counts of attempted murder with a firearm.

He killed his parents on May 20 of last year, then opened fire in the cafeteria of the 1,500-student Thurston High School the following day. ("Two Students Die, 22 Injured in Ore. Rampage," May 27, 1998.)

Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 2, according to a spokeswoman for the Lane County, Ore., district attorney.

--Michelle Galley

Teachers' Credit Union Closed

The Nebraska Teachers Credit Union was closed and bought by another credit union two weeks ago after the group suffered big losses attributed to embezzlement.

The 700 members of the credit union didn't lose any money because all accounts were below the $100,000 insured by the government.

The credit union, with offices in Omaha and Lincoln, was bought by First Nebraska Credit Union, a much larger organization that serves state employees.

A teachers' credit union employee had not been charged but was suspected of embezzling between $200,000 and $500,000--a sizable chunk of the credit union's $850,000 in total assets.

--Alan Richard

Detroit Teachers OK Contract

Members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers have ratified the three-year contract that settled a 10-day strike last month.

The agreement, which the union's 11,500 members supported by a ratio of 3-to-1, gives all teachers a 2 percent raise each year. In addition, veteran teachers will receive raises of about 4 percent to bring their salaries in line with those in surrounding districts. They also are eligible for additional raises if they meet a series of performance requirements, including further study in their subjects.

The contract commits the district to reduce class sizes in 22 elementary schools this year. The district won concessions on teachers' use of sick time, but lost its attempt to institute merit pay. ("Detroit Schools Open Following 10-Day Teachers' Strike," Sept. 15, 1999.)

--Ann Bradley

Drug Search Ruled Unreasonable

A California school district's use of a drug-sniffing dog for suspicionless searches of students was unreasonable under the 4th Amendment, a federal appeals court has ruled. But school and sheriff's department officials were immune from liability in federal court because the legal status of such searches was not clearly established at the time, the court said.

The case arose out of the 3,650-student Plumas Unified School District's use of a sheriff's department drug dog to search students and their belongings at Quincy High School in 1996. A student identified in court papers as B.C. objected to the search, which found no drugs. He sued the district and its officials in federal district court, alleging a violation of his right to be free of unreasonable searches.

A district judge found the search unreasonable but held that school officials were immune from liability. On Sept. 20, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, based in San Francisco, affirmed that ruling. --Mark Walsh

Teens Accused of Counterfeiting

Three 16-year-old Missouri boys are facing state counterfeiting charges after police said the students paid for their school lunches with false bills produced in one boy's home.

Fake $10, $20 and $100 bills were discovered by cafeteria workers at Francis Howell North High School in St. Peters last month.

The workers had been alerted to watch for counterfeit money and were using a special pen to check $10s and $20s. The pen leaves an amber mark when used on real bills and a black mark on fakes.

Police arrested two boys immediately, and later arrested a friend who allegedly made the bills in his home. Police searched the home and found $4,000 in counterfeit bills, according to Sgt. David Kuppler of the St. Peters police department.

A fourth boy, 17, has been arrested in connection with the alleged scheme but has not yet been charged, Sgt. Kuppler said.

--Meghan Mullan

$50 Million Aids Indiana Schools

The Lilly Endowment Inc. plans to award $50 million in grants over two years to help raise the quality of education in Indiana.

The Indianapolis-based philanthropy will give out seven countywide grants of $5 million each and 15 grants of $50,000 each over the next two years to local foundations that strive to improve education in their communities, said Gretchen Wolfram, a Lilly spokeswoman.

The money can be used for programs from the K-12 level to lifelong-learning projects.

According to Ms. Wolfram, the endowment is especially concerned with the low number of Indiana residents who earn college degrees. The state ranks 48th in the nation in the percentage of adults who have earned bachelor's degrees and 50th in the percentage who earn professional degrees.

--Julie Blair

Vol. 19, Issue 6, Page 4

Published in Print: October 6, 1999, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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