News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Voters in Portland Area OK Tax to Aid Schools

Voters in the Portland, Ore., area approved a three-year county income tax last week that will pump up to $400 million over that period into eight cash- strapped school districts as well as into county social services and public safety.

Almost 59 percent of more than 200,000 Multnomah County voters checked "yes" on Measure 26-48 on May 20, according to unofficial poll results, election officials said.

The measure enacts a 1.25 percent personal-income tax. As a result, residents in Multnomah County, which includes the Portland school district, will pay about 15 percent more in taxes than other Oregonians do. ("Portland Schools' Financial Crisis Threatens Future," March 5, 2003)

About two-thirds of the money raised, or about $90 million a year, will benefit schools, many of which have cut the school year, academic programs, or staff levels because of decreased state funding amid the continued weak economy. Law enforcement and social services will split about $32 million a year, and some $7 million annually will pay for the administrative costs of collecting the tax.

The measure's supporters, including Oregon Gov. Theodore R. Kulongoski, a Democrat, expressed their relief when the measure passed. The governor said in a written statement that the measure's approval sent a strong signal to the legislature to solve the problem of inadequate state funding of schools and public services.

Besides Measure 26-48, 10 other school construction bonds or local-option levies were up for votes in Oregon last week. The 35,000-student Beaverton school district's $53.7 million property tax was approved, as were tax measures in three other districts, but six of the measures failed.

—Rhea R. Borja

Immigrant Student Can Stay To Graduate, Judge Rules

Tchisou Tho, 18, an immigrant to the United States and a senior at Como Park High School in St. Paul, Minn., confessed to school officials that he expected to be deported from the country shortly before his senior class would graduate on June 4.

A strong student who has taken Advanced Placement classes, Mr. Tho was looking forward to being the first member of his family to earn a diploma.

His parents, who are Hmong, left Laos in 1975 and settled in France, and he was one of five children born there. The family moved to the United States on visitors' visas 13 years ago.

The family lived in the country illegally after the visas expired and was ordered by an immigration judge to voluntarily leave the United States before March 26, which the family didn't do.

Staff members for two Minnesota members of Congress, U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, a Republican, and Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat, intervened to help the student and his family.

At a hearing this month, immigration officials decided that the family could remain in the country to witness Mr. Tho's graduation, but must depart after that, according to Joshua Straka, the communications director for Ms. McCollum.

In addition, deportation proceedings against Mr. Tho have been postponed indefinitely because Sen. Coleman introduced legislation this month in his behalf. In the meantime, the student may begin the process of applying for U.S. citizenship, said Erich E. Mische, the state director for Mr. Coleman.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Union-Backed Members Gain Majority on L.A. School Board

The seven-member board of the Los Angeles Unified School District last week tilted in favor of a four-person majority backed by the local teachers' union.

David Tokofsky, an incumbent member, won a runoff election to retain his seat. And Julie Korenstein lost her bid for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council, which means that she will serve another two years on the school board.

Both candidates involved in this month's elections have been supported by United Teachers Los Angeles. In addition, two other board members were elected in March with the union's backing.

Mr. Tokofsky's opponent, Nellie Rios-Parra, was backed by the Coalition for Kids, which received financial backing from former Mayor Richard J. Riordan of Los Angeles and philanthropist Eli Broad.

—Ann Bradley

Miami Labor Lawyer Named To Run Teachers' Union

A Miami labor lawyer has been named to run the day-to-day operations of the troubled United Teachers of Dade, whose president is no longer being paid.

Both developments stem from the deepening troubles of the 28,000-member union, which represents teachers in Florida's Miami-Dade County school district. The union's offices were raided last last month by FBI officials looking for evidence that President Pat Tornillo had illegally spent thousands of union dollars on travel, expensive accommodations, and luxury goods.

Shortly afterward, the American Federation of Teachers, one of the local union's two parent groups, took over its administration. The new administrator, Mark Richard, a former labor organizer and a teacher at Miami-Dade Community College, said he would work to restore the union's financial stability.

Mr. Tornillo, who is on leave, was deprived of his pay a few days after the Miami union's chief financial officer, James Angleton Jr., was put on leave without pay. Mr. Angleton brought to light many of the local union's financial problems. Mr. Tornillo had gone on leave, with pay, following the FBI raid.

—Bess Keller

D.C. Mayor Names Members To Capital's Board of Education

District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams has named a community activist and a businessman to the board of education in the nation's capital.

The May 14 appointments would fill vacancies created when two board members, Charles R. Lawrence III and Roger Wilkins, resigned. Both men had expressed frustration at what they saw as the mayor's lack of attention to the question of their possible reappointment. ("Mayoral Appointees Quit School Board in D.C.," March 5, 2003)

One of the appointees, Robin B. Martin, the president and chief executive officer of the Deer River Group, a radio and cable-systems company, has served on a number of boards, including those of several museums and a local private school.

The other, Carrie L. Thornhill, has been active for 40 years in a variety of organizations dedicated to improving urban life, with a particular focus on youth development and education.

The District of Columbia Council must approve the mayor's appointments to the board, whose five elected and four appointed members oversee public schools for 67,000 students.

—Catherine Gewertz

Connecticut District to Open School With Security Focus

The New Britain, Conn., district plans to open an alternative school that would train disadvantaged students for careers in the emerging field of homeland security.

The program would offer traditional academics in a military-style teaching environment, combined with training and certification for providing such services as air- and water-contamination testing, security screening, emergency services, and surveillance.

"We want to break the cycle of poverty in our community and among our students," said Doris J. Kurtz, the superintendent of the 10,800-student district. "This presents an opportunity for our students who are at risk academically to earn higher incomes."

The district intends to launch the new program in January, starting with 50 to 100 freshmen and sophomores. Students will be admitted with a formula weighted heavily on family income, and they also must be "drug free and crime free," Ms. Kurtz said.

The superintendent said she would use the fall semester to develop the curriculum for the school, recruit and screen students, and drum up funding for the project.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Chicago Group Protests Planned School Closings

A group of Chicago parents and community leaders protested last week outside Mayor Richard M. Daley's office, urging the mayor to put a one-year moratorium on plans to close schools.

The Chicago board of education, whose members are appointed by the mayor, is considering closing or merging 12 neighborhood schools or special programs with low enrollments in the 432,000-student district.

In response, the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group, a coalition of community-based organizations and local economic-development groups, has formed a citywide task force that is arguing for new policies on shuttering schools.

Andrea Lee, the coordinator of the schools initiative for the organization, said residents are concerned that the board has closed schools in each of the last two years without giving the public adequate time to react.

One change the coalition seeks would amend state law to give Chicago's local school councils—which are based at school sites throughout the system—a formal voice in the matter, she said.

The board of education is scheduled to vote on the latest round of closings and consolidations this week.

The mayor's office did not return calls for comment.

—Ann Bradley

Vol. 22, Issue 38, Page 4

Published in Print: May 28, 2003, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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