News in Brief: A National Roundup

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L.A.'s Belmont Project Halted by School Board

The Los Angeles board of education voted Jan. 25 to stop building the partially completed Belmont Learning Complex, which would have been the most expensive school construction project in the country.

The board directed staff members to investigate other sites for a new high school and report back in 60 days.

The district's top executives had recommended scrapping the project a week earlier. ("L.A. Chief Recommends Abandoning Belmont," Jan. 26, 2000.)

Situated on an oil field west of downtown Los Angeles, the project had been welcomed in some quarters as providing crucial space in the overcrowded, 700,000-student district and criticized in others for its cost—nearly $200 million so far—and unresolved environmental problems.

—Catherine Gewertz

Computer Woes in Austin

Two recent reports portray serious problems with computer systems in the Austin, Texas, school district.

Evaluation Software Publishing Inc., based in Austin, determined that human error and temporary fixes were largely to blame for data-keeping troubles that local school officials said date back years and threaten millions of dollars in state aid as well as proper school accreditation ratings. Officials of the 78,000-student district said they have been operating with an inflexible and outdated system.

A second review, conducted by technology consultant Rick Bauer, criticized the district for installing hundreds of new computers without an adequate plan for maintaining them.

Superintendent Pascal D. "Pat" Forgione requested both evaluations. Austin is upgrading classroom technology with proceeds from a $35.9 million bond issue that voters approved in 1996. District administrators said they are giving priority to fixing the data-keeping system.

—Bess Keller

More Consider Teaching

More of last fall's incoming college freshmen expressed interest in teaching careers than at any other time in the past 30 years, a report says.

Nearly 16 percent of freshman women and 6 percent of their male classmates said they were considering teaching either elementary or secondary education when they graduate, according to a study released in January by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.

But interest in teaching remains far below the peak levels of 1968, when 38 percent of women and 13 percent of men said they planned to become educators, the report says. The study polled 261,217 students at 462 two- and four-year colleges and universities.

—Julie Blair

Less Gym Time in Chicago

An Illinois Supreme Court decision allows the Chicago public schools to cut back on physical education classes.

The Jan. 21 decision reversed a ruling last year by a Cook County circuit court prohibiting the Chicago school board from waiving daily physical education classes for 11th and 12th graders. The lower court found that the waiver policy was unconstitutional.

The supreme court decision will allow the board to make physical education an elective for juniors and seniors and could save the 431,000-student district $16 million in the next school year.

—Adrienne D. Coles

Money Manager Pleads Guilty

John Gardner Black, the investment adviser at the center of a municipal-finance scandal that cost Pennsylvania school districts more than $61 million, pleaded guilty last week in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh to 21 counts of fraud by an investment adviser, three counts of mail fraud, and two counts of filing false documents.

Each count carries a maximum prison term of five years. Mr. Black, 55, had been scheduled to go on trial under a federal indictment totaling 134 criminal counts.

Federal prosecutors say the final figure for the amount lost by the 55 districts for which Mr. Black made investments was $61.3 million.

Richard L. Scheff, Mr. Black's lawyer, said the losses resulted from market conditions and that the investment adviser "did not put any money in his pocket." Based on civil settlements with Mr. Black and a bank with which he did business, the districts have recovered about 90 percent of their losses. Mr. Black is scheduled to be sentenced April 14.

—Mark Walsh

Bilingual Challenge Defeated

A federal judge in New Mexico has rejected a legal challenge to the Albuquerque public schools' bilingual education program, allowing it to remain in place. David A. Standridge Jr., the lawyer who filed the suit, said he would appeal U.S. District Judge Martha Vasquez's dismissal last month of Carbajal v. Albuquerque Public School District.

Mr. Standridge had argued that the bilingual program violated the federal Equal Educational Opportunities Act, which prohibits the denial of educational opportunity because of race, color, gender, or national origin. He said the students who are put into bilingual education classes are "kept behind in the core curriculum" because they are taught in dual languages.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which intervened in the suit to help preserve the program, welcomed the ruling.

The defense fund's lawyer, Cynthia Cano, pointed out that Judge Vasquez had said that school districts have a good deal of discretion in designing such programs.

—Catherine Gewertz

Columbine Changes Approved

The Jefferson County, Colo., school board has approved a measure that will allow private funds to be raised to remodel the library and cafeteria at Columbine High School. The cafeteria and library were the primary locations of the shootings at the school last April that left 15 people dead.

The board's 4-1 decision, reached Jan. 21, gives the go-ahead to the 90,000-student school district, the nonprofit Denver Foundation, and HOPE, an organization established to handle donations, to start raising money for the $3.1 million project.

The plan is to replace the existing library with an atrium opening into the cafeteria and to build a new library elsewhere in the building.

Some students and parents have said they want the library to remain intact, and argue that the money would be better spent on counseling and school security.

—Michelle Galley

Jostens Learning Changes Name

One of the best-known brand names in the educational software business, Jostens Learning, is being changed to CompassLearning.

Executives said the switch signals a new direction for the San Diego-based company, which was purchased last July from private investors by Ripplewood Holdings LLC, a New York City-based private equity investment firm, and has products used by some 10 million students in more than 15,000 schools.

CompassLearning joins Weekly Reader magazine as part of Ripplewood's WRC Media educational publishing division.

Terry Crane, the president of CompassLearning, said in a statement that the goal of the firm was to create a "managed curriculum system that takes advantage of leading technologies."

—Andrew Trotter

Vol. 19, Issue 21, Page 4

Published in Print: February 2, 2000, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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