News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Ex-Chief Is Charged
In Alleged Bid Scheme

A former superintendent of community schools in the New York City borough of Queens, her husband, and four associates were charged last week in an alleged bribery scheme involving what authorities said were rigged bids for new computer labs.

Celestine Miller, who was the superintendent of Community School District 29 from 1992 to 1999, was accused of taking $925,000 in bribes to rig bids for the installation of computer labs in 19 schools.

All of the accused pleaded not guilty to the charges. Ms. Miller's lawyer denied the charges on her behalf.

Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown announced the indictments Nov. 1 at a news conference with New York City Schools Chancellor Harold O. Levy and Edward P. Stancik, the school system's special commissioner of investigations.

Mr. Levy said steps have been taken to ensure that his office has oversight of bidding and contracts in the city's 32 community school districts.

—Alan Richard

Voting-Rights Suit Fails

A federal judge has rejected a lawsuit that contended Detroit voters' rights were violated by a 1999 Michigan law that disbanded that city's elected school board and allowed the mayor to appoint its members.

U.S. District Judge Nancy G. Edmunds ruled Oct. 25 that there was no evidence of racial discrimination and that the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 applied only to efforts or issues that limit or abridge the right to vote.

The plaintiffs have appealed last month's ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, based in Cincinnati.

George B. Washington, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, argued that the state is disenfranchising black voters in Detroit by denying them the right to vote for school board members. The state legislature made the governance change because of the 176,000-student district's poor test scores and high dropout rates.

The plaintiffs, including a student, a teacher, and other organizations, sued Mayor Dennis W. Archer, then-interim schools Superintendent David Adamany, and Gov. John Engler last year, months after the city took over the schools.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Virgin Islands Strike Continues

Teachers in the U.S. Virgin Islands overwhelmingly rejected a third contract proposal offered last week by the territory's governor, continuing a strike that began Oct. 11. Schools remained open for the islands' 25,000 students.

Gov. Charles Turnbull, a Democrat, offered the 2,300 educators on the Caribbean islands of St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas a 13 percent pay raise for work completed in the 1994-95, 2000- 01, and 2001-02 school years, said Vernelle S. De Lagarde, the interim president of the St. John chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. Beginning teachers would earn $24,000 under the plan.

Teachers contend they should receive higher pay and "are getting more frustrated and more angry," Ms. De Lagarde said. Educators are being paid at 1993 levels in compliance with the last contract, which was negotiated in 1991, she said. Currently, she said, the territorial government owes union members $120 million in back pay.

Gov. Turnbull's proposed contract did not address that retroactive pay.

—Julie Blair

E. Coli Outbreak Fells Students

Wisconsin health officials are searching for the cause of an outbreak of E. coli bacteria at a school late last month.

At least two dozen children at Bethesda Elementary School in Waukesha fell ill between Oct. 20 and 25 with signs of E. coli infection, including bloody diarrhea and severe abdominal cramps. Six of those children, three of whom were hospitalized, had confirmed cases of the infection, while seven more tested positive for the bacteria.

Administrators at the 485-student school have decided to suspend the school lunch program until the investigation into the possible source of contamination is complete, said David Schmidt, the superintendent of the 12,800-student Waukesha schools.

In the meantime, investigators are looking at other possible sources of contamination, including food served at school activities and on field trips.

—Adrienne D. Coles

Dallas School Chief Gets Top Pay

Mike Moses

Mike Moses will be apparently be the nation's highest-paid superintendent when he reports to work as the head of the Dallas schools on Jan. 1, Dallas officials said.

Mr. Moses, a former Texas education commissioner, will be paid $280,000 a year under the five-year contract unanimously approved last week by the nine-member school board.

He will become the 262,000-student district's fifth superintendent in four years, replacing Waldemar "Bill" Rojas, who was fired by the board in July for failing to build a strong relationship with the trustees.

Mr. Moses is currently the deputy chancellor of the Texas Tech University system.

—Robert C. Johnston

NBA Chips In for Playground

The children of Blodgett Elementary School in Syracuse, N.Y., won't have to use a nearby park as a playground much longer.

The 300-student school, which is considered the birthplace of modern basketball, received $50,000 in donations last month for a new playground. The National Basketball Association donated $25,000, and Terry McAuliffe, a top fund-raiser for the Democratic Party and a native of Syracuse, donated $25,000.

In 1954, the now-defunct Syracuse Nationals basketball team first tested the 24-second clock in the school's gymnasium. The clock is credited with transforming professional basketball into the fast-paced game it is today.

The students at the school are currently using a rundown public playground, said Neil Driscoll, a spokesman for the Syracuse school district. Last year, students wrote letters to the NBA expressing the importance of their gymnasium, which spurred the organization's interest in the school, he added.

—Michelle Galley

Drug Offender Keeps Post

The student body president at Phoenix (Ore.) High School, who was caught carrying drugs at school, will keep his leadership post after winning a court battle and surviving a recall vote.

Keanon Ferguson, a popular athlete, was suspended from school, benched from sports for a month, and stripped of his office after a school security guard found him in the school parking lot with marijuana and a pipe at the end of the last school year.

The student's father, William Ferguson, who is a lawyer, challenged the school's decision to take his son's presidency away, arguing in court that school leaders had no authority to remove him from the position. Jackson County Judge Phil Arnold ruled in the student's favor last month.

A group of students then mounted a recall effort against the student leader, but it failed in a narrow vote last week. The student body president has said he would devote the remainder of his term this year to promoting anti-drug efforts.

Superintendent David Willard of the 2,800 student Phoenix-Talent schools, said the school board was planning to appeal the county court's ruling.

"I need to fight for schools' right to discipline students as they see fit ... as long as it's fair," he said, "and this was."

— Jessica Portner

Vol. 20, Issue 10, Page 4

Published in Print: November 8, 2000, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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