News in Brief: A National Roundup

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St. Louis Taps N.Y.C. Firm As Interim District Manager

A former Brooks Brothers executive will serve as the interim superintendent of schools in St. Louis, under a contract between the district and the New York City management firm where he is now a managing director.

William V. Roberti will have as an education adviser former New York City Schools Chancellor Rudolph F. Crew, a district spokeswoman said.

The St. Louis school board voted 5-1, with one abstention, on May 30 to hire the firm of Alvarez & Marsal, said the spokeswoman, Rita Holmes-Bobo. The firm will be paid about $5 million for a one-year contract, some of which will be used to pay a subcontractor to conduct a performance audit of the district, she said.

Mr. Roberti, who ran the famed men's clothing company from 1987 to 1994, will be assisted by Mr. Crew, who oversaw New York's schools from 1995 through 1999, and by Antonio C. Alvarez II, who co-founded Alvarez & Marsal.

The 39,700-student district's superintendent, Cleveland Hammonds Jr., is retiring June 30. Mr. Hammonds is paid $183,180 annually.

Some community members have objected to the privatization of the superintendency and to the cost of the arrangement.

—Catherine Gewertz

Voters in New York State Approve Record Number of School Budgets

Despite a cloudy economic outlook and an unusually tight budget year, voters in 94 percent of New York state's school districts—described as a record number—approved their districts' budgets in votes last week, state officials said.

Timothy G. Kremer, the executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, issued a statement calling the results of the June 3 votes "an extraordinary show of support" for public schools.

Although the state legislature rejected many of the cuts to school funding proposed by Gov. George E. Pataki, many districts have had to raise tax levies because state aid to schools still is projected to decline in the 2003-04 academic year, said association spokesman David Ernst.

The 94 percent budget-approval rate of the school budgets on the ballots exceeds the previous record of 93.5 percent in 1998, the group said. Since 1969, the average approval rate has been 82 percent.

Following each year's vote, districts report their results to the state education department. If their budgets fail, districts' spending can be governed by "contingency budget" restrictions under state law.

—Catherine Gewertz

New President of Boston Union Promises to Back 'Positive Change'

The Boston Teachers Union has a new president for the first time in more than a quarter-century.

Richard Stutman, who has spent 20 years as a field representative for the union, was elected without opposition last week to the position vacated by Edward J. Doherty. Mr. Doherty served as the president of the 7,400-member affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers for 28 years, earning a reputation as both a tough defender of his members and a reform-minded education leader.

Mr. Stutman, 51, will serve a two-year term. In an "open letter to members" on his campaign Web site, he pledged to preserve unity among union members in the face of budget cuts, to fight layoffs, and to gain a "fair and equitable" contract. He also urged members to take "a more active role in improving our schools."

Although some Boston news reports about his election have painted him as a hard-liner on traditional labor issues, Mr. Stutman said in an interview that he supports "positive change that works."

—Ann Bradley

20 Junior Girls Disciplined In Glenbrook North Hazing

Twenty junior girls at Glenbrook North High School in suburban Chicago who were the victims of a widely reported May 4 hazing incident off campus have been suspended for nine days for violating an Illinois school code provision prohibiting secret societies.

Fifteen of the girls had their suspensions "commuted" on June 2 after signing waivers in which they agreed to counseling and not to pursue any "commercialization of their involvement in the incident," said a statement from the 4,600-student Northfield Township School District No. 225. Senior girls pelted junior girls with debris in the videotaped incident at a "powder puff" football game.

One of the five juniors who refused to sign the waiver sought an emergency order from a Cook County Circuit Court judge to block her suspension, but was turned down on June 3. Three of the others have hired a lawyer, who announced that their suspensions would first be appealed within the school system. The juniors do not face expulsion, but those who declined the waiver face lowered grades because of their absence from classes.

The school district last month expelled 31 seniors—28 girls and three boys—for their participation in the incident. ("Misbehavior Off Campus Raises Issues," May 28, 2003.)

-Mark Walsh

Florida District Shifts Stance On Students' Cellphone Use

After waffling on the issue of whether to allow students to carry cellular phones on school grounds, the Broward County, Fla., school board voted 5-4 last week to keep and strengthen the district's policy banning the devices.

A 40-member advisory panel of parents, community members, teachers, and principals had advised the school board to allow students to have cellphones. At last month's board meeting, school board members voted to follow that recommendation.

But because all policy changes for the 266,000-student district must be voted on twice, the issue was brought up again last week.

Following a lengthy discussion, one board member changed her vote and decided to back the existing policy, which will be amended to make the penalties for being caught much stricter, according to Fay Clark, the district's director of student services.

Because of the two-vote rule, the school board will take up the issue again next month to decide on adoption of the policy as now amended.

—Michelle Galley

Watchdog Group Faults PTA For Relationship With Coca-Cola

The National PTA's recognition of Coca-Cola Enterprises as a "proud sponsor" is drawing criticism from a watchdog group that aims to limit commercial influences on children.

In a letter sent last week to Shirley Igo, the president of the organization, Commercial Alert, based in Portland, Ore., asserted: "Instead of promoting the welfare of children, the National PTA is promoting the welfare of a corporation that seeks to fill them with sugar and caffeine."

Coca-Cola is sponsoring the PTA's new school certification program. The company's logo appears on the National PTA's Web site, along with those of other sponsors, including the National Football League, Disney Interactive, and the Microsoft Corp.

"We urge you to give back Coca-Cola's money," the letter said. "Then the National PTA will be able to speak with an uncompromised voice about health effects of junk food, and carry out its worthy mission."

Vicki Loise, the National PTA's acting development director, said that Coca- Cola Enterprises was committed to the certification program, which involves building strong family and community partnerships with schools. But she added that the PTA's position on marketing to children has not changed.

"Advertising, marketing, and collecting information on children has no place in the classroom," she said.

—Linda Jacobson

Death: Rev. Shirley Bulah Stamps

The Rev. Shirley Bulah Stamps, whose parents' Delaware lawsuit helped lead to the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling outlawing racial segregation in public schools, has died at the age of 59.

Ms. Stamps suffered a heart attack on May 28 in Wilmington, Del., where she worked as an associate pastor, friends said.

Ms. Stamps' adoptive mother, Sarah Bulah, filed suit to force the state to provide school bus transportation for her daughter, Richard Kluger wrote in the 1975 book Simple Justice, a history of the Brown v. Boardof Educationof Topeka case.

Two Delaware cases, including Mrs. Bulah's, eventually led a Delaware state judge in 1952 to order the plaintiffs admitted to white schools. The Delaware litigation ultimately was resolved by the Supreme Court in the Brown decision, along with cases from Kansas, South Carolina, and Virginia.

—Catherine Gewertz

Vol. 22, Issue 40, Page 4

Published in Print: June 11, 2003, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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