News in Brief : A National Roundup
Polk County, Fla., Ends Superintendent Elections
Voters in Polk County, Fla., last week decided to abolish the county's long- standing system of electing its school superintendent.
The 82,000-student district is believed to be the largest in the nation still electing superintendents, a system once prevalent in the South that dates back to resistance to Reconstruction after the Civil War. To prevent "carpetbag" governors from filling vacancies, many public positions were made elective offices.
The ballot referendum, approved 51.6 percent to 48.4 percent on Sept. 10, was placed before voters after a 6-1 vote in favor of doing so by the school board in June.
The current superintendent, Jim Thornhill, a Republican, has two more years to serve of his four-year term in office, which he intends to complete.
Boston U. Academy Ordered To Drop Gay-Support Group
A prestigious private secondary school affiliated with Boston University has disbanded a support group for gay and lesbian students at the orders of the university's chancellor.
Kevin Carleton, a spokesman for Chancellor John Silber, said Mr. Silber felt it was unnecessary for the school, which serves 135 students in grades 8 through 12, to have such a group.
"The school is small and nurturing," he said. "It is the kind of place where students are not made to feel unusual. There may well be a need for such a group in schools where an open environment is not successfully fostered."
Mr. Carleton, who also spoke on behalf of Boston University Academy Headmaster James Tracy, said the headmaster followed the orders, but was still in discussion with parents and teachers last week about the decision.
The school, which receives funding from the university, is located in Boston on the BU campus.
— LISA FINE GOLDSTEIN
Creative Sentencing in Ala.: Convicts to Pay Two Districts
Two Alabama men found guilty of involvement in a large gambling operation have been sentenced to pay money to two St. Clair County school systems, rather than serve jail time.
In a display of creative sentencing, District Court Judge Jim Hill told the defendants to pay the St. Clair County and Pell City schools a total of $200,000 in the next two years. If they fail to do so, they face a year in jail.
No one could have been more surprised than the beneficiaries, school officials said.
"I'm surprised, shocked, and thankful, very thankful," said Michael Barber, the assistant superintendent of Pell City schools, a 3,850-student district in central Alabama. "It's one of those things where you hate for people to get in trouble, but if something good could come out of that, then it did. The money will be spent on the kids."
Mr. Barber said the money would probably go toward a construction project to expand the high school. Attempts to reach the superintendent of St. Clair County schools for comment were unsuccessful.
Judge Hill found Tim Jackson, 52, of Cropwell, and Harold Quick, 44, of Pell City, guilty of promoting gambling and possession of gambling records. They were ordered to pay each district $50,000. The lawyers for the defendants could not be reached for comment.
—LISA FINE GOLDSTEIN
N.J. Teacher Sentenced For Sex With Student
A former New Jersey teacher who was originally put on probation after admitting she had sex with a 13-year-old student has been ordered to serve three years in prison.
The rare second sentencing was prompted by the community outcry that arose after Bergen County Superior Court Judge Bruce A. Gaeta imposed only five years' probation on May 22.
Pamela Diehl-Moore had pleaded guilty in January to sexual assault, and agreed to serve three years in prison.
But the judge said he saw no harm done and speculated that the six- month relationship in 1999 between Ms. Diehl-Moore and the boy, after he completed 7th grade, might have helped him meet his sexual needs.
At the request of Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli, an appeals court ordered her resentenced. Superior Court Judge William C. Meehan imposed the three-year prison term on Sept. 6.
Ms. Diehl-Moore's lawyers had argued that a prison term was too harsh, since she suffered from depression at the time of the relationship, and because she had led an "exemplary" life prior to that.
Judge Gaeta has since been reassigned to civil court, and his handling of the case is under review by a state panel on judicial conduct.
Ms. Diehl- Moore has been suspended from her job at a public middle school in Clifton, N.J.
Lead Found in Water In Camden, N.J., Schools
Students in many Camden, N.J., schools are drinking bottled water after state officials found high levels of lead in the schools' water pipes.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is installing flushing equipment at 28 schools in the 18,000-student system. Camden's six remaining schools already have the equipment, which flushes stagnant water and accumulated lead from pipes.
State and school officials acted after a coalition of community groups released a report last month that found elevated levels of lead at many Camden schools between 1999 and 2002.
Camden students will receive bottled water for up to three months during installation of the new devices and while the state conducts follow-up testing.
—RHEA R. BORJA
Children's Trust Approved By Miami-Dade Voters
Voters in Miami- Dade County last week approved by a 2-1 ratio a property-tax increase that will be used to establish a "children's trust." The increase is expected to bring in roughly $60 million a year for programs to improve children's health, safety, and development.
Half of the revenue will be used for child-development and school-readiness programs for children from birth through age 5.
The campaign for the increase—which will mean an additional $37.50 in taxes on a $100,000 home—was led by David Lawrence, the former publisher of the Miami Herald. Mr. Lawrence now serves as the president of the Early Childhood Initiative Foundation, which works to expand health care, education, and child- care programs in Miami.
L.A. Schools to Receive $468 Million for Facilities
The Los Angeles school district will get an additional $468 million for school construction this year, after a state panel chose to commit the remaining funds from the 1998 Proposition I-A statewide bond issue to the chronically overcrowded district.
The funds, which are to be matched by the district and total more than $600 million under Proposition I-A this year, are part of the 737,000-student district's efforts to provide classrooms for its fast-growing population. Los Angeles Unified, the nation's second-largest district, will use the money to build 80 new schools and expand the campuses of more than 70 others.
Nearly one-third of campuses are operating on a year-round schedule because of lack of space, and sites to build new schools are at a premium in urban areas. Two years ago, after Los Angeles lost significant Proposition I-A funds to smaller and less needy districts, the district proposed comprehensive plans to build new facilities or expand existing ones.
—JOETTA L. SACK
Detroit Administrators Win Round in Fight Over Jobs
Hundreds of Detroit public school administrators are back on the job after a judge declared a temporary truce in a dispute between the schools chief and the administrators' union.
Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Warfield Moore ruled Sept. 9 that the Detroit school district must employ 391 administrators who had been reassigned to classroom jobs and restore their full pay and benefits.
At the end of the 2001-02 school year, district Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Burnley reassigned the administrators to the lower-paying jobs. When the new school year began, some were still waiting for details of their new positions and were not being paid, according to the administrators' union, the Organization of School Administrators and Supervisors.
Under the court ruling, the administrators will work as classroom teachers until an arbitrator can determine whether the reassignments violated the union's collective bargaining agreement.
"With this ruling our members can get back to work," said OSAS President Diann Woodard . The school district has said it will not comment on pending litigation.
—MICHELLE R. DAVIS
Vol. 22, Issue 3, Page 4Published in Print: September 18, 2002, as News in Brief : A National Roundup