News in Brief: A National Roundup

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National Group's President Placed on Leave in District

Bill Hill, who serves as the president of the American Association of School Administrators, was placed on paid leave last week by his Phoenix-area school district.

Mr. Hill told members of the school board of the Deer Valley Unified system at their Oct. 8 meeting that he intended to resign Dec. 31. But later in the meeting, the board instead voted to place the superintendent on administrative leave, according to a letter written by Susan Burke, the board president.

The board's vote, she wrote, was "pending a review by the Maricopa County attorney's office of some matters of concern."

Mr. Hill's tenure since 1999 in the 29,000-student district has been marked by controversy, including his decision to spend $20,000 in district funds on promotional materials circulated at the AASA's annual convention in 2001. ("AASA President-Elect's Promotional Spending Reviewed," Jan. 16, 2002.)

The superintendent, whose term as president of the AASA expires next summer, also has come under fire locally for arranging to have some of his salary distributed in two "balloon" payments not authorized by the board and for failing to get an Arizona driver's license and car-registration tags, according to a report in The Arizona Republic newspaper.

Mr. Hill could not be reached last week for comment.

Barbara Knisely, a spokeswoman for the Arlington, Va.,-based AASA, a membership organization that represents the viewpoints of school administrators, said the association's rules require only that people be serving as superintendents when they seek and are inducted into office, but not for the entire term.

"We've been extremely pleased with his leadership," she said of Mr. Hill.

—Ann Bradley

N.Y.C. Schools, Teachers' Union Agree to Schedule Change

The New York City schools and the city teachers' union have agreed to modify the school schedule after problems cropped up with the new format.

Under an agreement the district reached with the United Federation of Teachers in June, teachers' workweeks were extended by 100 minutes this school year. Most community districts within the 1.1 million-student system opted to have teachers spend half that time in professional development each week and the other half instructing small groups of students who needed the help.

But irregular student schedules, in turn, disrupted the bus runs for students who are transported to school, said David Sherman, the vice president of the UFT. And in some cases, the 50-minute period of professional development wasn't well- planned.

Instead, at the city's request, the union agreed to extend the day in elementary schools by 15 minutes; once every two weeks, teachers will have a 50-minute period for professional development.

At the middle and high school levels, class time will be extended by 20 minutes a day. Time allocated to faculty conferences during the school day is to be used for professional development.

Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein said in a statement that the new arrangement, scheduled to take effect Oct. 30, "ensures stability and predictability for family schedules throughout the rest of the school year."

—Ann Bradley

School Board in Michigan Suspends Key Officials

A Michigan school board has suspended four top district officials after a special investigation raised questions about at least $1 million in financial transactions since 1999.

The River Rouge school board last week suspended with pay Benjamin Benford II, the superintendent; Anna Riggins, the director of school and community relations; Marie Miller, the chief financial director; and Joseph Emery Jr., the director of athletics. The Michigan State Police and state treasury officials are investigating, according to Lynn Tate, the president of the school board for the 2,550-student district in Wayne County.

"I haven't heard from many people in the district that they are that upset," Mr. Tate said. "You know what? You just go through the process of getting to the bottom of it."

The report, commissioned by the school board, was written by George Ward, a former Wayne County chief assistant prosecutor. It showed alleged financial irregularities ranging from missing sports inventory to overpaid officials.

Among the findings, Mr. Tate said: Hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts were awarded without going through the proper bidding process or getting school board approval; the superintendent was paid $110,787 more than the board approved; and the superintendent's son received a full- time salary at a time when he was away at college.

The four officials could not be reached for comment last week.

—Lisa Fine Goldstein

Ex-Officials to Pay Interest In Thefts From Ky. Foundation

Two former Jefferson County, Ky., school officials who are paying back $300,000 that they admitted stealing from a school foundation have been ordered to pay 12 percent interest on the money.

Jim and Patti Hearn must pay about $183,000 in interest, according to a ruling this month by a Jefferson County circuit court judge. The money will go to the Jefferson County Public Education Foundation.

The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in June that the couple, who were placed on 10 years' probation, must pay interest.

The couple admitted to stealing the money between 1994 and 1997. The Hearns, who have since moved to North Carolina, have been paying $4,000 a month, according to their lawyer, Bart Adams of Louisville, and will extend those payments to cover the interest.

Before the theft case, Ms. Hearn was a deputy superintendent in the 95,000-student Jefferson County district, and her husband was the chairman of the school board.

—Ann Bradley

7 Percent of Charter Schools Have Shut Down, Report Says

The proportion of charter schools forced to shut down across the nation has risen to nearly 7 percent of the total number that have opened, according to a report scheduled for release this week.

In its third report on charter school closings, the Center for Education Reform reports that 194, or 6.7 percent, of the 2,894 schools that have been granted charters have shut down since the nation's first charter school opened in Minnesota in 1992.

That represents an increase from 4 percent the last time the center compiled such figures, in December 2001.

The report, slated for release Oct. 15, breaks down the closed schools by state, and specifies whether their chief problems stemmed from finances, mismanagement, academics, facilities, or district downsizing.

Beyond the closed schools, the center reports that an additional 77 schools were consolidated into the school districts that chartered them, and that another 84 schools received charters but never opened.

Jeanne Allen, the president of the Washington-based center, which strongly supports charter schools, argued that the figures are evidence that "the charter concept is succeeding," because failed schools are being held accountable for results.

At the same time, Ms. Allen and Melanie Looney, the center's research director, charge in the report that "the majority of these closures could have been avoided if the education establishment had not stood in [the charter schools'] way."

—Caroline Hendrie

Ga. Students Disciplined For 'Lynching' Barbie Doll

Three white students at Lowndes High School in southern Georgia have been punished for the mock lynching of a doll on campus.

A black student discovered the white Barbie doll, which had been spray-painted black and hung from a tree with a noose around its neck, and helped identify the culprits, said Steve Smith, the superintendent of the 9,300-student Lowndes County district.

The three students were suspended for five school days, ending Oct. 10, and were transferred to another school, which they will attend at least until December.

The district also reported the incident to the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a possible hate crime. Mr. Smith said FBI officials investigated and have referred the case to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Race relations at the 2,750-student school have generally been good, the superintendent noted, saying that he considered the episode an "isolated incident."

"It serves as a reminder that our jobs are not done yet," Mr. Smith said. "We still have more to do."

—Andrew Trotter

Vol. 22, Issue 7, Page 4

Published in Print: October 16, 2002, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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