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EduClips: From Private School Security in NYC to Questionable School Crime Reporting in Broward County, School News You Missed This Week From America’s 15 Biggest Districts

By Andrew Brownstein | April 18, 2019

EduClips is a roundup of the week’s top education headlines from America’s 15 largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across eight states attend class every day. Read previous EduClips installments here.

New York City — Security Guards at Private Schools Will Cost $22 Million in Public Funds, THE CITY Finds: An effort to use public funds to pay for unarmed security guards at private schools — including some of the city’s most elite institutions — is on pace to cost taxpayers $22.3 million over the past three years, according to an investigation by THE CITY. The effort, created under City Council legislation and approved by Mayor Bill de Blasio in late 2015, has grown from $4 million for 127 schools in its first year to an expected $10.7 million and 163 schools this year. While the vast majority of participating non-public institutions are Catholic and Jewish schools, at least 10 elite private schools have collected funding to pay for guards — including Manhattan’s The Dalton School, Lycée Français of New York and The Buckley School. Tuition at the 10 schools ranges from $37,150 to $51,950, raising questions among some officials who oppose doling out taxpayer money to private schools. (Read at THE CITY)

Broward County — School Crime Data in Fort Lauderdale and Other Florida Districts Suffers from Under-Reporting: School districts in Florida often under-report and sometimes over-report crimes and other problems on their campuses, giving the public no clue about how safe any school is, members of a commission investigating the 2018 Parkland shootings said recently. For example, Stephen Foster Elementary in Gainesville reported 72 physical attacks of students last school year, while Miami-Dade County reported none for the entire school district. That same year, Pinellas County reported 410 batteries, while Palm Beach County, a district nearly twice as large, reported only 66. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High Public Safety Commission, which is investigating the massacre that killed 17 people, concluded that while some administrators purposely under-report data to make their schools look safer, there also has been inconsistent training and differing views on how serious an incident needs to be before it’s reported to the state. (Read at the Sun Sentinel)

Gwinnett County — Students Complain to School Board About Over-Testing: Gwinnett County’s school board has recently heard a lot about testing from parents, school leaders and teachers. But recently, it heard from arguably the most important constituency of all: high school students. Adam Lux and Jacob Bowerman, seniors at Parkview High School, questioned the necessity of so many tests — especially at the end of the school year. Passing the AP exams earns college credit. The students said they were over-taxed and over-stressed by studying for AP exams while simultaneously studying for county- and state-mandated tests. They asked the school system to consider waivers for state-required End of Course tests for seniors with good grades and attendance. Although he’s sympathetic to the students’ concerns, the assistant superintendent in charge of instruction said the district’s flexibility on tests is limited by state requirements. (Read at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Houston — Families Bilked by Charter School Founders to Receive $600,000 in Restitution: More than 4,000 parents of students who attended a Houston charter school whose founders have been imprisoned for mail fraud and tax evasion will receive more than $600,000 in restitution, the U.S. Department of Justice recently announced. The Varnett Public School is a charter school with three locations in Houston. In August 2017, founding superintendent Marian Annette Cluff, 70, and her husband Alsie Cluff Jr., 69, who worked as facilities and operations manager, pleaded guilty to mail fraud and conspiracy to commit tax evasion charges for embezzling millions of dollars from the school. The couple received a combined prison sentence of 13 years and was ordered to pay a total of $4.4 million in restitution. The Cluffs embezzled millions of dollars in funds that were intended for the operation and function of the charter school and its programs, according to court records. Prosecutors say the couple took money that mostly low-income parents paid for school field trips, book fairs, student fundraisers and other school activities, and used the funds to support a lavish lifestyle that included trips on private jets, multiple properties, designer clothes and jewelry. (Read at Houston Public Media)

Miami-Dade County — Bill Would Ensure That Charter Schools Share in Property Tax Windfalls: A new bill filed in the Florida state legislature would require school districts to include charters in their windfalls from local property tax referendums. The bill, proposed by the House Ways and Means Committee led by Rep. Bryan Avila, R-Miami Springs, says that districts must share these funds with charter schools or risk having other monies withheld. The bill would affect Miami-Dade, Broward and at least a dozen other districts whose constituents have voted to raise property taxes for school operations, such as paying teachers. The bill’s origins likely rest in an ongoing dispute in Miami-Dade, which overwhelmingly passed a property tax hike in November. About 88 percent of the funding expected to be collected in its first of four years — more than $200 million — has already been bargained with the teachers union to supplement teacher salaries. (Read at the Miami Herald)

Fairfax County — District Officials Apologize for Student Artwork Viewed as Anti-Semitic: Officials in Virginia’s largest school system have apologized for artwork from a high school student that depicted Jewish people with anti-Semitic stereotypes and was displayed at a local college. The image, shown as part of an exhibition from Feb. 15 to March 14 at Northern Virginia Community College’s Annandale campus, depicts a man with a hooked nose carrying a bag of money. The caption reads, in capital letters, “No Jew in the world understands the importance of money.” The image was one of eight in a portfolio called “Racial Irony” that won a regional art award. The series was intended to convey a message that the “exaggeration of stereotypes spreads ignorance,” according to Fairfax County Public Schools. But the work from a South County High School student sparked criticism from some members of the Jewish community, who said the art perpetuated anti-Semitic imagery. County Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand apologized on March 28 in a letter to the community and said the student did not intend to offend anyone. (Read at The Washington Post)

Los Angeles — High-Level Spat Ensues Over Mayor’s Tax Proposal to Raise Funds for School District: A spat has erupted between the head of a Los Angeles County business organization and a high-level adviser to Mayor Eric Garcetti over a tax proposal from the mayor to raise money for the Los Angeles Unified School District. Tracy Hernandez, founding chief executive of the Los Angeles County Business Federation, known as BizFed, said Rick Jacobs, campaign manager for the tax measure known as Measure EE, told her during a phone call last month that BizFed members who campaign against the measure won’t do any business in the city of L.A. for the next four years. Jacobs denied Hernandez’s account of their exchange. “I am insulted that she would accuse me of being so trite as to use the old ‘won’t do business in this town’ line,” Jacobs said. BizFed is the county’s largest federation of business groups, representing more than 180 business associations and 400,000 employers, according to the group. BizFed and other business organizations, including the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, have formed a “No on Measure EE” committee to campaign against the tax. (Read at the Los Angeles Times)

Noteworthy Essays & Reflections

TEACHERS UNIONS — Are teachers unions helping or hurting schools? Here’s what the newest research tells us (Read at Chalkbeat)

ADMISSIONS SCANDAL El-Mekki: Stop Being Shocked by the College Admissions Scandal — America Has Never Been a Meritocracy — and Start Fighting for Real Equity (Read at The74Million.org)

NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOLS They believe more students should attend neighborhood schools. But what happens when it’s their child? (Read at The Washington Post)

STUDENT LEARNING Does Moving to a Brand New School Building Improve Student Learning? (Read at Education Week)

EMPATHY — What my students learned — and didn’t learn — from my efforts to teach empathy in language arts class (Read at Chalkbeat)

Quotes of the Week

“It defies common sense. It defies logic.” —Bob Gualtieri, chairman of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High Public Safety Commission, which is investigating the massacre that killed 17 people, on the under-reporting and sometimes over-reporting of crimes at Florida schools. (Read at the Sun Sentinel)

“Well, you know, I’m going to die in here and I’m a virgin and I will have never met Bruce Springsteen.” —Heather Martin, recalling what she told a friend nearly 20 years ago as two gunmen terrorized Columbine High School. Today, she teaches high school English in nearby Aurora, Colorado. (Read at The74Million.org)

“One of my teachers … put it frankly, ‘I can either teach you what you need to know for the AP [Advanced Placement] exam to earn college credit and give you a review packet for the EOC [end-of-course exam] or I can spend valuable class time teaching you what the county thinks you should know, because that’s a completely different course.’” —Adam Lux, a senior at Parkview High School in Gwinnett County, Georgia, on the large amount of testing seniors face. (Read at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

“That’s something that, frankly, we’ve all just taken for granted: ‘Of course, [the U.S. is] a democracy, it’s always going to be a democracy.’ Well, we’re beginning to kind of rethink that. We’re nowhere near Venezuela, I’m not suggesting that, but there are cracks. And it’s not just because Trump got elected, because actually a lot of this stuff was coming up before Trump arose on the scene. We’ve seen evidence of this now for the last few years, and if anything, 2016 kind of galvanized our attention. Yeah, this is a moment.” —David Campbell, a political scientist at Notre Dame. (Read at The74Million.org)

“When we want to embrace the past, when we get nostalgic for the past, when we think it was better, then we get all warm and fuzzy about handwriting.” —Historian Tamara Plakins Thornton on the resurgence of cursive writing. (Read at NPR)

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