News in Brief: A National Roundup

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N.Y.C. Board Extends Schools Chancellor's Term

The New York City board of education voted unanimously last week to extend Chancellor Harold O. Levy's contract until the end of the calendar year.

The May 30 vote echoed an agreement earlier in the day between Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Mr. Levy to keep the chancellor on board until state legislators approve any governance changes for the city's schools.

Mr. Bloomberg had hoped to postpone a decision on the chancellorship until he secured the power to appoint someone to that post. But with no such law yet approved, a decision had to be made on Mr. Levy's contract, which was designed to extend one more year automatically if the board took no action on it by June 1.

The Republican mayor is seeking the power to appoint the chancellor and a majority of the city school board, and wants that body to have only advisory powers. He also is seeking the dissolution of the district's 32 community school boards.

Lawmakers in Albany have yet to reach complete agreement with the mayor on what powers he will have.

—Catherine Gewertz

State-Appointed Board Takes Over N.Y. District

New York state education officials have appointed a five-member board to run a struggling Long Island school district.

The move completes the state takeover of the Roosevelt Union Free School District, whose long-standing academic and fiscal problems prompted New York lawmakers to pass a measure allowing the state to manage the district.

The new board members, appointed by the state board of regents on May 22, replace an elected school board that state Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills removed on May 8. ("N.Y. District Braces for State Takeover," May 15, 2002.)

Edward L. McCormick, a retired IBM executive and a past president of the New York State School Boards Association, was named the new interim chairman.

Laval S. Wilson, a former superintendent of state-controlled schools in Paterson, N.J., also was appointed to the board. The remaining members are Roosevelt residents and parents of students in the district.

—John Gehring

Chicago Officials Probe Student's Drowning Death

Four members of the staff at a Chicago elementary school were reassigned last week after a student in their care drowned on a field trip.

Derrick Spencer, 14, an 8th grader at Goldblatt Elementary School, apparently drowned in the pool at the Quality Inn-Cincinnati Hotel in Evendale, Ohio. The students were on a field trip to the Kings Island amusement park in Cincinnati.

Twenty-five students and five chaperones, including the school's assistant principal, two teachers, a counselor, and an adult volunteer, made the trip. The staff members have been reassigned with pay during the school system's investigation of the incident, which is expected to conclude this week.

The Hamilton County, Ohio, prosecutor's office also has launched an investigation, according to Chicago school officials.

—Ann Bradley

Baltimore Teachers' Union Chief Loses Presidency to Rival

The president of the Baltimore Teachers Union has lost her job to a rival she beat only two years ago in a tough campaign.

Sharon Y. Blake was replaced by Marietta A. English as the head of the American Federation of Teachers affiliate on May 23, said Carla M. Tyler, a union spokeswoman. Ms. Blake, a former high school social studies teacher, garnered 380 votes to Ms. English's 598 votes in the May election. Ms. English teaches elementary school.

Three other members also ran for the office, but received only a handful of votes, Ms. Tyler said. Some 1,200 of the union's 7,500 members cast ballots.

Ms. English captured the presidency by pledging to fight to get rid of the district's mandatory student portfolios, Ms. Tyler said.

—Julie Blair

N.J. Teacher's Affair With Boy Yields No Jail Sentence

A judge's refusal to sentence a New Jersey teacher to prison for having sex with a 13-year-old student has prompted prosecutors to appeal the sentence in a bid to ensure that the teacher serves time.

Pamela Diehl-Moore, 43, pleaded guilty in January to sexual assault for what she said was a six-month affair that began in 1999, after the boy had completed 7th grade. She agreed to serve three years behind bars.

But when she came before Bergen County, N.J., Superior Court Judge Bruce A. Gaeta for sentencing on May 22, he refused to impose jail time. He said he saw no sign of psychological harm to the boy, and speculated that the relationship might have enabled him to satisfy his sexual needs.

The judge also noted that Ms. Diehl-Moore, who suffers from depression, could receive better medical and psychological treatment outside prison.

Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli said he filed a notice of appeal with the superior court's appellate division on May 24 because he believes the judge's decision violates a state law requiring prison time for a teacher who engages in sex with a student.

—Catherine Gewertz

Miami-Dade County Board Cuts Employees' Pay for Two Days

A week after the Miami-Dade County, Fla., school board approved a two-day emergency pay cut for district employees, the board's chairwoman proposed that they be repaid if there is enough money left at the end of the fiscal year.

Perla Tabares Hantman wrote in a memo that the district should repay the almost 38,000 teachers and other employees affected by the pay cut if the system's $2.4 billion budget doesn't go into the red by June 30.

On May 22, the board voted 6-3 for the two-day pay reduction, which saves the district $12.8 million. The austerity measure came after the state cut $81.2 million in funding for the 370,000-student system.

Before the pay cut, the school district had imposed a hiring freeze and a 25 percent cut of every school's fund reserves, among other measures.

The United Teachers of Dade, the local teachers' union, filed a lawsuit last month alleging unfair labor practices and challenging the constitutionality of the state law that allows school systems to break contracts because of financial emergencies.

—Rhea R. Borja

Cairo, Ill., Schools End Year Despite Time Lost to Strike

The school year ended last week in Cairo, Ill., without students making up the 17 instructional days lost during a teachers' strike last month.

Rather than extend the school year, the board of education decided to close schools as scheduled on May 29. The decision cost the 980-student district approximately $400,000 in lost state aid, because it did not offer enough days to qualify for the money.

Ron Newell, the president of the Cairo Association of Teachers, said the district's 71 teachers will lose between $2,500 and $5,000 each in salary and benefits for the missed days, depending on experience.

Superintendent Robert Isom said summer school will start on June 10.

—Ann Bradley


Antonia Pantoja, the founder of the youth-advocacy group Aspira and a champion of Puerto Rican children in the New York City schools, died May 24 of cancer at age 80.

Ms. Pantoja, who had emigrated from her native Puerto Rico to the city in the 1940s, established Aspira in 1961. The nonprofit organization focuses on educational advancement, leadership development, and cultural awareness for Latino youths.

Spurred by Ms. Pantoja's discontent with how schools were serving Hispanic children, Aspira filed a federal lawsuit in 1972 calling for the New York City schools to provide instruction in Spanish to children with limited English skills. In 1974, a federal judge ruled in favor of Aspira. The resulting consent decree, which requires the city's schools to provide bilingual education, is still in effect.

Ms. Pantoja received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996 from President Clinton for her work in improving educational and economic conditions for Puerto Ricans.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Vol. 21, Issue 39, Page 4

Published in Print: June 5, 2002, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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