News in Brief

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Los Angeles County Passes 'Universal Preschool' Plan

Los Angeles County's "First 5" Commission has approved a "universal preschool" initiative that will begin enrolling 4-year-olds next fall.

Making use of space in existing early-childhood programs—such as Head Start and California's state preschool program—the new effort will target 13 areas of the county where the needs are the greatest. Services will eventually expand to other areas.

According to the plan, which was approved Feb. 12, the program will run for part of the day, but parents will have the option of enrolling their children in child care for the rest of the day.

In addition, a five-star rating system will help guide parents toward high-quality programs, and most teachers in the program will be required to have a two- or four-year degree by 2014.

The First 5 commission—which manages the uses of local revenue from a statewide tobacco tax—has set aside $600 million for the preschool initiative.

The commission's vote happened the same week that the 728,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District's board voted to expand kindergarten from half day to full day, a move that local officials say will help build on the progress that children make in preschool. ("Full-Day Kindergarten Adopted by L.A. Board," Feb. 18, 2004.)

—Linda Jacobson

Minn. Teen to Be Tried as Adult In Fatal Shootings of Classmates

A 15-year-old Minnesota student charged with the murders of two of his high school classmates will be tried as an adult.

Jason McLaughlin made his first court appearance as an adult in Stearns County District Court on Feb. 17. The teenager is accused of fatally shooting two other students last Sept. 24 at Rocori High School in the 2,600-student Rocori district in Cold Spring, 60 miles northwest of the Twin Cities. ("Minnesota Student Held After Fatal School Shooting," News in Brief, Oct. 1, 2003.)

Senior Aaron Rollins, 17, died the day of the shootings, and freshman Seth Bartell, 14, died at St. Cloud Hospital on Oct. 10.

Mr. McLaughlin has 30 days to appeal the court's decision to try him as an adult.

His lawyer, Daniel A. Eller, said last week that no decision had been reached on whether his client would appeal the court's decision to remove him from the juvenile-justice system. If convicted as an adult of the most serious charges against him, the teenager faces life in prison with no chance of parole for 30 years.

A grand jury indicted Mr. McLaughlin on one count of first-degree murder, three counts of second-degree murder, one count of second-degree assault—for allegedly pointing the gun at a teacher before surrendering—and one count of possessing a dangerous weapon on school property.

Mr. Ellis said his client suffers from a psychotic disorder.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Attack Spurs Florida District To Equip Buses With Cameras

The superintendent of the Duval County, Fla., schools has pledged to place video cameras on all of the 128,000-student district's buses, after a middle school boy was beaten this month during his ride home from school.

Seven students from Landon Middle School assaulted the boy on Feb. 4. The incident was captured on videotape and shown on television news programs.

All seven students have been suspended and are awaiting hearings to determine whether they will be placed in alternative settings or expelled, said Brenda English, a communications supervisor for the Jacksonville-area district.

In response to news of the attacks, Superintendent John C. Fryer Jr. said he would install cameras stocked with videotape on all of the system's 1,000 buses. No estimate was available last week on the cost of the equipment, which is now in use only on some buses, Ms. English said. The money for the equipment likely would come from the district's federal safe-schools grant, she said.

The boy who was beaten as he cowered in his seat suffered minor physical injuries, Ms. English said. District officials believe the video cameras will help them stop or swiftly deal with other incidents of bullying on buses, she added.

—Ann Bradley

3rd Grader Dies of Injuries From Gunfire Near School

A 10-year-old boy who was shot in the face outside his Philadelphia school this month has died.

Faheem Thomas-Childs, a 3rd grader at Thomas M. Peirce Elementary School, was struck by shots fired in a neighborhood gun battle as he walked to school on Feb. 11. ("Phila. Pupil Shot Outside School," News in Brief, Feb. 18, 2004.) He died on Feb. 16.

Two young men arrested in connection with the shootings were scheduled to be arraigned last week on murder charges, according to the Philadelphia district attorney's office.

—Ann Bradley

Embattled Schools Chief Agrees to Leave Md. District

The superintendent of schools in Howard County, Md., has reached an agreement with the county school board to end his service as the district's leader on Feb. 29, according to a district news release.

The school board voted unanimously in January not to renew John R. O'Rourke's contract. It expires at the end of the school year, but school board members wanted him out sooner. Complicating the situation was a Maryland law that says only the state schools chief can dismiss a district superintendent before his or her contract is up. ("A Long Goodbye," Leadership, Feb. 18, 2004.)

The embattled chief of the 46,000-student district just south of Baltimore has struggled to win the confidence of board members. The school system has also drawn recent attention for a grade-changing scandal at a high school.

Mr. O'Rourke will be replaced March 1 by Sydney Cousin, a longtime employee of the Howard County school district who recently served as deputy superintendent, according to the district news release.

Mr. Cousin will serve as the interim superintendent until June 30, by which time the board hopes to have named a new district chief.

—John Gehring

Colo. District to Charge Fees For Retaking High School Classes

The St. Vrain Valley, Colo., school district has won a waiver from the state that will allow Skyline High School to charge students to retake required courses that they have failed.

Under the pilot program approved last week by the Colorado board of education, the school will charge students $80 for each class they have to retake. One other district in the state charges such fees.

The aim is for students to pay more attention to their schoolwork, education officials in the 22,000-student district said. The fees will be charged starting this spring.

The fee will be reduced or waived for students from low-income families. Those who pass a class on their second try will get back half of their fees.

—Ann Bradley

Denver District, Teachers' Union Move Closer to Performance Pay

Negotiators for the Denver teachers' union and the Denver school district have reached agreement on a groundbreaking plan allowing willing teachers to be paid for increased student achievement.

The school board in the 72,000- student district approved the new contract language last week. Teachers are set to vote on it next month. The pay-for-performance plan for teachers would cost an estimated $25 million a year. If teachers ratify the agreement, the district is expected to ask voters for a dedicated property-tax increase, most likely in November 2005, according to the Joint Task Force on Teacher Compensation, a partnership between the district and the union.

Denver tried out the plan in a four-year pilot program. The pay system would reward teachers for improving student achievement, working in high-poverty schools, and increasing their knowledge and skills. Most Denver teachers, like their counterparts nationwide, are paid for the extent of their education and years of service.

Teachers would be able to sign up for the new approach over the next several years, or they could stick with the current system, according to union officials.

—Bess Keller

Chicago's Budget-Balancing Act Calls for Cutting 1,000 Jobs

Chicago school district officials are planning to slash 1,000 school-based jobs to make up part of a $200 million budget deficit.

While Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois announced a proposed $400 million increase in K-12 education spending during his budget address last week, that funding boost wouldn't be likely to fill the 439,000-student district's budget gap for the 2004-05 fiscal year.

Chicago hopes to save $40 million through early retirements, administrative-staff reductions, and normal attrition in positions, said Celeste Garrett, a district spokeswoman. But another $60 million in budget reductions would come from eliminating 1,000 positions—from janitors to teachers—at schools. District leaders hope the remaining $100 million shortfall would be met by the proposed increase in state funding, Ms. Garrett added. The district's total operating budget is $3.6 billion.

In a statement to the press, Chicago Teachers Union President Deborah Lynch said she was "outraged" by the school system's plan. The leader of the 33,000- member union, which is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, vowed to fight the "unwarranted" job cuts.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Vol. 23, Issue 24, Page 4

Published in Print: February 25, 2004, as News in Brief
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