11/1997 School Choice Roundup
School choice news from the states.
Students Unimpressed by Tax-Funded Clowns
Clowns funded by a $25,000 federal law-enforcement program grant are performing lunchtime shows at the high school in Redlands, California, to relieve tension among students who are no longer allowed to leave the school for lunch after the campus was closed to improve student safety. But students are unimpressed by the tax-funded clowns and some wonder why the tax dollars aren’t being put to better use.
“Personally, I’d rather have science books for everyone,” junior Stacy Hogue told the Riverside Press-Enterprise. “Right now, there aren’t enough to take home.” Senior Fatima Cristerna suggested spending the money on something that lasts, “like computers or the Internet.”
Investor’s Business Daily
Teachers Balk at Being Role Models
After receiving several complaints about teachers swearing in the presence of students, school administrators in Collinsville, Illinois, last summer instituted a policy that bans swearing and declares that teachers should act as role models. But teacher unions are balking and want to negotiate the policy. Mike Cook, regional director of the Illinois Education Association, says the term “role model” is open to interpretation and asks if the policy means a teacher cannot go to a local bar and have a beer.
“We are not saying that it’s appropriate to use profanity,” Cook said, “but the policy that they’ve drafted, we think is a little too broad and subject to a wide range of interpretations.”
Chief Fired at Failing School
The superintendent of a “chronically under-performing” school has been dismissed amid allegations of mismanagement, wasteful spending, and patronage. With only 14 percent of its sophomores reading at or above grade level, Massachusetts’ Lawrence High School was earlier this year in danger of being taken over by the state and losing its accreditation. (See “State Takeover of School Eyed in Mass.,” School Reform News, April 1997.) With the firing of Superintendent James F. Scully on August 7, the state school board will reconsider taking over the district.
Teacher Rates F as Role Model
When math teacher Christine Bradley was accused of buying a rifle from a student on school property in 1994, Michigan’s Saranac School District suspended her for ten days. But after she racked up her third conviction for stealing in 12 years by pleading no contest to stealing batteries from a local store, the school board wanted her out. Although they had to pay her $37,000 to resign, Superintendent Bruce Chadwick considers the deal a bargain. Termination proceedings would have cost at least $20,000 in legal fees, plus Bradley’s full salary over the time taken to go through this “due process.”
Education Intelligence Agency
Teacher Pension Bill Vetoed
Claiming the change would encourage teachers to leave the classroom and make it more difficult to carry out a state initiative to reduce class sizes in early grades, Governor George E. Pataki on September 4 vetoed a bill that would have allowed New York City teachers to retire with a full pension at age 55 instead of 62, and after only ten years on the job rather than thirty. United Federation of Teachers president Sandra Feldman, who fought hard for the bill, denied it was an early retirement incentive.
Most Teachers Flunk Student Tests
Only one in four of the 758 teachers who applied for a position at Long Island’s Connetquot School District this year could pass the Regents Exam in English that high school juniors are required to take. Only 202 applicants correctly answered at least 40 of the 50 reading comprehension questions that were taken from old Regents’ Exams. Candidate screening also included a review of credentials, a writing test, interviews, teaching demonstrations, and content tests for math and science teachers. But if applicants flunked the Regents test, they were not considered further.
The new process was proposed by a new board member, Fran Hohenberger, following complaints about the qualifications of teachers who were hired when they had relatives on the school board. New board members wanted “an absolutely level playing field,” assistant superintendent of instruction Robert J. Long told the New York Times.
New York Times
Dilution of Charter Program Staved Off
The efforts of Vernon Jordan of the North Carolina Education Reform Foundation were not only successful in holding off an attempt to dilute North Carolina’s charter school bill, but were instrumental in persuading lawmakers to approve amendments to strengthen the state’s charter laws. Jordan and other charter school advocates held six press conferences around the state to show support for the existing charter law. The North Carolina superintendents’ group now is urging the governor to veto the amendments.
Center for Education Reform
Dallas Schools Probe to Continue
Despite the resignation of Dallas School District Superintendent Yvonne Gonzalez on September 16, an internal corruption investigation that she launched in March into overtime fraud, contract fixing, and other corrupt practices in the district will continue. The Dallas school board refused to accept the Superintendent’s resignation and instead placed Gonzalez, who is Hispanic, on a 30-day administrative leave.
The internal probe has already led to the federal indictment of 13 former and current employees, all from the division run by the district’s chief financial officer, Matthew Harden. But when Harden, who is black, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Gonzalez on September 12, Gonzalez offered her resignation to the school board to protect the district’s image. She denied Harden’s allegations and said she was being attacked because she was investigating corruption and mismanagement. In April, NAACP members claimed her investigation was using black employees as scapegoats.
NEA Employee Fined for False Reporting
A National Education Association employee on loan to the Washington Education Association was found guilty of campaign reporting violations on August 19 and fined $2,300 by Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission. As a result of a lawsuit filed by state Attorney General Christine Gregoire against the WEA on February 12, the Commission is conducting a larger investigation into the union’s Community Outreach Program, which Gregoire charges was created solely to influence the political processes in the state with regards to particular candidates or ballot measures. (See “Washington Teachers Union Faces Lawsuit,” School Reform News, April 1997.)
The Blum Center
NEA Caves in on Property Taxes
National Education Association president Bob Chase announced at the end of September that the union will pay $1.1 million in property taxes to the District of Columbia. Despite its conversion from a professional association to a labor union in the 1970s, the NEA has continued to enjoy the exemption from local property taxes granted in its 1906 charter. Paul F. Steidler, a policy analyst for The Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, estimates the exemption saved the union $7.1 million in taxes from 1993-1997. (See “Teacher Union Gets Special Tax Treatment,” School Reform News, September 1997.)
“NEA may have surrendered on taxes to save the rest of the charter,” says Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency, noting that the union’s action came after an amendment to repeal the union’s charter was added to the DC appropriations bill.
Education Intelligence Agency