News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Ore. Schools Chief Fights Ethics-Violation Charges

A state commission decided last week that it will sue Oregon's superintendent of public instruction, alleging that he committed more than 1,300 ethics violations.

The state Government Standards and Practices Commission found that Stan Bunn used state telephones and a state vehicle for personal use and financial gain. Mr. Bunn apparently used the state vehicle to commute from his home to work and for other personal trips, according to the commission's report.

The seven-member, bipartisan citizen commission calculated that the 1,300 violations—including about 950 telephone calls—cost the state more than $14,000. Mr. Bunn said he repaid $900 for the telephone calls, adding that reimbursement is an acceptable practice according to the state department of administrative services. The education department sanctioned the use of state vehicles for commuting prior to his election to the superintendent's post, he added.

"I'm caught in a conflict between two state agencies," Mr. Bunn said.

Pat Hearn, the executive director of the commission, said it would pursue the case in Marion County Circuit Court in Salem because Mr. Bunn would not admit to any wrongdoing and would not pay any fines.

A maximum fine of $1,000 can be imposed for each violation. Mr. Hearn said the suit would be filed by next month.

Mr. Bunn maintained that he did not commit any ethical violations. Instead, he acknowledged that he had been "tardy" in reporting his personal expenses.

A Republican and former legislator, Mr. Bunn was elected state schools chief in 1998 and several years ago was a member of the state commission that plans to sue him. He is up for re-election next fall.

— Karla Scoon Reid

Setback for Phila. Takeover Foes

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has declined to hear lawsuits challenging the state's school takeover law and questioning the legality of letting Edison Schools Inc., serve as a consultant to the Philadelphia schools.

In two brief orders issued on Jan. 17, the court refused to hear the lawsuits filed by a coalition of labor unions and community members.

One suit contends the state's takeover law, used to assume control of Philadelphia schools Dec. 22, is unconstitutional. The other argues that allowing Edison to serve as a consultant to the 200,000-student district after receiving a $2.7 million contract last fall to study ways to improve it would violate the state's conflict-of-interest law. ("Edison to Study Woes of Philadelphia Schools," Aug. 8, 2001.)

Although the state's highest court refused to hear the conflict-of-interest case, it is still pending in a trial-level court, said lawyer Ralph Teti, who represents the plaintiffs in both suits.

The lawsuit on the takeover law could be refiled with the state's high court, Mr. Teti added. A similar conflict-of-interest case, filed by U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., is also pending.

—Catherine Gewertz

Panel: School for Deaf Improved

Following three years in which its students were involved in over 100 incidents of rape, sexual harassment, or molestation, the Washington School for the Deaf has improved its safety policies and procedures for resident students, according to an expert panel appointed by Gov. Gary Locke. But more progress is needed, the panel said.

Mr. Locke, a Democrat, appointed the panel in June 2001 following an incident of alleged sexual abuse at the state-run school, which has 113 hearing-impaired students in grades K-12.

In its final report on Jan. 8, the panel concluded that the school has made many improvements since last spring.

The school has new policies for admission and expulsion of students, and written policies for the staff members who supervise residential students, including setting a ratio of one adult supervisor for every seven children in the residences and in nonacademic activities outside the residences, the panel said.

But the panel noted that the school needs more money for personnel, training, and equipment. Mr. Locke has asked lawmakers to add $235,000 for the school to the state's supplemental budget for fiscal 2003. He wants another report in six months.

—Andrew Trotter

UC Approves Tuition Break

The University of California board of regents has voted to allow some undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at the 10-campus university system. The 17-5 vote on Jan. 17 applies to students who have attended a California high school for at least three years and have graduated.

Several hundred students enrolled at UC campuses are slated to see tuition drop from the $14,933 annually that out-of-state and international students pay, to the $3,859 yearly in-state rate.

The new policy will take effect after the legislature passes a bill designed to limit the university system's liability in case the new policy were to be successfully challenged in court. University officials expect the legislature to act in January of next year. If the bill were to be adopted as an emergency measure, it could take effect sooner.

The California State University system implemented a similar tuition policy this academic year on its 23 campuses.

—John Gehring

Texas Commissioner to Leave

Jim Nelson, the Texas commissioner of education, has announced his resignation. Mr. Nelson, 51, was appointed in August 1999 by George W. Bush, who was then the governor of Texas.

Mr. Nelson is leaving the state's top education post to take a senior executive position in the higher education division of Voyager Expanded Learning, a Dallas-based for-profit firm that publishes curriculum and provides professional development to educators.

"It has been a privilege to work with President George W. Bush and Gov. Rick Perry to help shape education policies on the national, state, and local level," said Mr. Nelson, a lawyer from Odessa, Texas. "However, an opportunity has come my way that is too good to turn down."

He offered no other details on his reasons for leaving. Observers said the move came as a surprise. Mr. Nelson, who formerly served as the chairman of the Texas State Board for Educator Certification, steps down March 31.

No replacement had been named as of late last week, according to an education agency spokesman.

—Michelle Galley

Illinois Teacher Shortage Grows

Teacher shortages in Illinois are growing worse, and threaten to further dim classroom quality, especially in Chicago and in rural areas, a new report finds.

The warning comes from the state school board's 2001 report on teacher manpower, which was released on Jan. 16.

The report said that teachers are leaving Illinois schools at a rate that has shot up by 60 percent since 1996, with only some of the increase due to a larger group of retirement-age educators.

To make matters worse, the number of undergraduates enrolled in teacher-preparation programs dropped by 10 percent between 2000 and 2001 after four years of relative stability.

With K-12 enrollment going up, the result is that there are more openings for teachers and fewer prospects to fill them.

Over the next four years, the state board predicts, Illinois schools will need to hire about 55,000 teachers—more than a third of the current public school teaching force of 127,300.

A teacher task force appointed by Gov. George Ryan, a Republican, is working on a proposal to address the teacher shortage for the legislature.

—Bess Keller

Vol. 21, Issue 20, Page 20

Published in Print: January 30, 2002, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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