News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Former State Union Official Sentenced in Massachusetts

The former finance chief of Massachusetts' largest teachers' union has been sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty to embezzling more than $800,000 in union dues.

Richard Anzivino, 49, of Needham, Mass., who worked for the Massachusetts Teachers Association, pleaded guilty last month to five counts of larceny over $250 and six counts of false entry in a corporate book. State Judge Carol Ball sentenced him to serve one year of his sentence, with the other year suspended in exchange for five years with probation. Mr. Anzivino had pleaded not guilty to the charges last May.

Over a period of six years starting in January 1996, just before he was promoted to finance director of the 98,000-member affiliate of the National Education Association, Mr. Anzivino illegally wrote himself about 270 checks from union accounts, according to prosecutors. He kept the amounts under $5,000, so a second signature was not needed on the disbursements, they said. Mr. Anzivino was fired in 2002, after the union's bank alerted officials to suspicious transactions.

Judge Ball denied the state's request that Mr. Anzivino pay restitution to the union, which received reimbursement for the stolen money through insurance.

In a statement, Mr. Anzivino's lawyer said his client was dealing with a gambling addiction.

—Bess Keller

Troubled Ga. School Board Selects New Superintendent

The Clayton County, Ga., school board has selected a superintendent to lead the 50,000- student district, which is under probation by a regional accrediting agency.

The board voted unanimously Dec. 20 to hire Barbara Pulliam, the superintendent of the 5,800-student St. Louis Park schools in Minnesota, after a national search.

After an investigation last May found that some board members had meddled in personnel issues and failed to follow proper policies, the Georgia district was placed on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.("Board's Conduct Threat to Ga. District," Nov. 26, 2003.)

Ms. Pulliam, 55, replaces William Chavis, Clayton County's interim superintendent.

—John Gehring

Disciplinary Action Challenged In Flap Over Houston Numbers

In a case that has drawn national attention, a computer technician in the Houston Independent School District plans to appeal disciplinary action taken against him in connection with the reporting of false dropout data.

Last month, the school board of the 210,000-student system voted to uphold the decision of district administrators to reprimand and dock the pay of Kenneth Cuadra, a former computer specialist at Houston's Sharpstown High School. District leaders say that Mr. Cuadra altered electronic reports to show state officials that the school had no dropouts for the 2001-02 school year. ("Houston Case Offers Lesson on Dropouts," Sept. 24, 2003.)

Mr. Cuadra, 29, has said that he was told by superiors to change the disputed reports, and that he brought the problem to the attention of the school's top leaders, who have since been replaced by the district. The Houston Federation of Teachers, which represents Mr. Cuadra, says he will appeal his case to state education officials.

—Jeff Archer

La. Board Refuses to Apologize For Punishing Lesbian's Child

A Louisiana school board accused of violating a 7-year-old pupil's constitutional right to free speech will not capitulate to his mother's demands for an apology.

The Lafayette Parish school board decided in a 5-3 vote on Dec. 11 that no laws or board policies were violated when a teacher punished Marcus McLaurin in November for telling another student that his mother was gay.

In an explanation contradicted by two disciplinary forms signed by the boy's teacher, officials in the 29,000-student district insisted that the 2nd grader was punished for disrupting class. ("La. Student Punished for Talking About Gay Mother in School," News in Brief, Dec. 10, 2003.)

The board said in a short statement, "To the extent that the student or the mother misunderstood or was left with the impression that the disciplinary action was taken for use of the word 'gay' or in reference to sexual orientation is regrettable. This was never the intent or the purpose."

Joe Cook, the executive director of the Louisiana chapter of the ACLU, said the boy's mother, Sharon Huff, would likely decide after the holidays what to do next. The ACLU had demanded that the school system wipe the Nov. 11 incident from the boy's educational record and acknowledge the punishment as a mistake.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Parents Accept Settlement In Girl's Death in Test Drive

The parents of an 8th grader who was killed while test driving an electric car designed by high school students in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, will receive a $400,000 insurance settlement.

Students at Kennedy High School were demonstrating cars they'd built for the Iowa Electrathon on a closed course at McKinley Middle School when the accident occurred last May.

Megan Hollingshead died when she lost control of the car going into a curve, according to district officials. The car smashed through a barrier, and Megan suffered a fatal blow to the head. She was wearing safety gear, including a helmet and a seat belt.

"It was a freak accident," said Lew Finch, the superintendent of the 18,000-student district, who said that the car was going about 15 miles per hour.

The school district no longer allows middle school students to test drive the cars, a practice which has become increasingly popular in recent years. ("High School Carmakers Build Electric 'Green' Machines," May 7, 2003.)

—Marianne D. Hurst

District of Columbia Schools Avoid Hundreds of Job Cuts

Faced with a $21 million deficit in its fiscal 2004 budget, the District of Columbia school system announced plans to cut 771 full-time positions by the end of this month.

But the cuts were delayed last month after the city adjusted the school district's total proposed budget of $738.4 million by $10.9 million. The adjustment covered expenditures the school system was paying for with local money, but that should have been paid by the city.

Washington's 65,000- student school system also decreased central-office spending by $6.4 million, which included cutting 78 positions and refining the procurement process.

Elfreda W. Massie, the interim superintendent, said she has been assured by members of the District of Columbia Council that the city would come up with the remaining $3.7 million to make up the deficit.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Bacterial Meningitis Cases Prompt Treatment at N.H. High School

Some 1,300 students and staff members at a New Hampshire high school were treated with antibiotics on Dec. 26, after two boys enrolled there were diagnosed with bacterial meningitis.

The state health department reported five cases of meningitis throughout the state in December. One 18-year-old with the illness died, and antibiotics were promptly given to at least 40 of her co-workers, family members, and friends, a spokeswoman for the health department said. State health officials said the strain the young woman contracted was different from that found in the two boys, ages 15 and 16, who attend Monadnock Regional High School in Swanzey.

Two other teenagers from other parts of the state were also hospitalized with meningitis. The state had no information as of Dec. 30 on whether those cases were connected.

—Darcia Harris Bowman


David P. Weikart, the founder of the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation and the leader of one of the most influential studies on the benefits of preschool, died on Dec. 9 of leukemia. He was 72.

While working for the Ypsilanti, Mich., public schools, outside Detroit, Mr. Weikart established the High/Scope Perry Preschool Project, a demonstration early-childhood intervention program for poor children that ran from 1962 to 1967. Follow-up studies of the children who attended the program are still being conducted and have shown positive social and economic outcomes for the former participants. The research has been used to support the growth of Head Start and other preschool programs throughout the country and the world.

In 1970, Mr. Weikart created the High/Scope foundation, located in Ypsilanti. The organization conducts research and training, and its curriculum model is widely used in Head Start and other preschool programs. Mr. Weikart retired from the foundation in 2000, but served as president emeritus.

"David Weikart's influence on children and families throughout the world has been extraordinary," said Lawrence Schweinhart, the president of the foundation. "We will do all that we can to live up to his legacy."

—Linda Jacobson

Vol. 23, Issue 16, Page 4

Published in Print: January 7, 2004, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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