Thursday, April 10, 2008

Five surprising salaries

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Much has been made of people who live beyond their means. When you see a neighbor bring home a fancy new car, you can't help but wonder how she can afford it on her salary. However, you can't assume you know how much she (or anybody) makes unless you've seen her tax returns.

Searching the heavens for stars, planets or black holes can pay very well.

Plenty of people earn surprising paychecks -- some higher and others lower than you expect. For this reason we've put together a list of jobs and their unexpected salaries. It's good information to know just to satisfy your curiosity (or nosiness).

Plus, the next time you're job hunting, use the list as a reminder not to make a snap judgment about any job before you do your research.

Court reporters

What they do: Court reporters transcribe court proceedings, meetings, speeches and other events where verbatim documentation is necessary. Any time someone says "Strike that from the record," court reporters are the ones writing that record.

Surprising salary: $59,970*. You might not have thought typing could earn you so much money, but once you realize court reporters can't miss a word -- often in fast-talking situations -- it makes more sense.

Elementary school principals

What they do: Elementary school principals ensure that students are meeting education requirements by communicating with other administrators, evaluating teachers, monitoring the curriculum and interacting with parents on a regular basis.

Surprising salary: $79,310. Careers in education, particularly those not at the college level, are notorious for being underpaid. Principals, however, earn significantly higher salaries than you might expect, sometimes as much as forty percent more than an elementary school teacher.


What they do: Paramedics respond to emergency situations and attempt to provide the necessary medical care, whether it involves transporting participants to a hospital or treating them on the scene.

Surprising salary: $27,070. Seeing as paramedics have high stress jobs that require them to be on call and ready to save lives at a moment's notice, you might expect their mean annual salary to be higher.


What they do: Astronomers use their physics and math skills to study the universe and its origin, which includes galaxies, solar systems and the planets within. They use this research to analyze and solve problems dealing with satellites and space travel.

Surprising salary: $95,740. Though maybe it shouldn't be all that surprising considering a doctorate is the standard level of education and there are only 1,700 astronomers in the U.S.

Fashion designers

What they do: Fashion designers design and create new clothes and other fashion accessories to be sold to the public in retail stores. Depending on whether they work for their own label or for someone else's, they might set new trends or follow existing ones.

Surprising salary: $69,270. Aspiring fashion designers are warned that few people can be the next Marc Jacobs, with runway shows at Fashion Week, actresses wearing their dresses at awards shows and millions in the bank -- but the less famous fashion designers, which include those working for retail chains, are earning more than you probably thought.

*Mean annual salary information based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

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How a 100-year-old apparel firm changed course

duo.03.jpgFormer CEO McDonald (left) took VF to the next level; Current CEO Wiseman has to keep the momentum going.

When VF hit the doldrums in the late 1990s, its ex-Army-pilot CEO turned the company's focus to building brands.

By Suzanne Kapner, writer

(Fortune Magazine) -- On a trek through the Himalayas in 2003, twin brothers and world-class climbers Damian and Willie Benegas dressed almost head to toe in North Face gear as they navigated an uncharted route to the summit of Mount Nuptse. On the other side of the globe, in 2007, Vans, a Southern California maker of skate shoes, put the finishing touches on its latest creation. Named for the Dropkick Murphys, an Irish-American punk band that Vans has helped promote, the slip-on black shoe has green stitching and a four-leaf-clover design. As brands go, Vans would seem as far removed from North Face as California is from Nepal. But they share a common thread: VF Corp. of Greensboro, N.C., owns them both.

At a time when U.S. apparel makers - names like Liz Claiborne, Jones Apparel, and Kellwood - are slashing earnings estimates, divesting divisions, and laying off employees, VF (VFC, Fortune 500) is moving in the opposite direction. Earnings grew 14% in 2007, and revenues 16%, to more than $7 billion, making it No. 335 on the Fortune 500. It's been a boon to investors too. Over the past decade, VF's stock has delivered a total shareholder return of 110%; shareholders in Liz (LIZ, Fortune 500), Jones (JNY, Fortune 500), and Kellwood have lost money over the same period.

"VF has been both lucky and smart," says Lazard Capital Markets analyst Todd Slater. "The brands it acquired turned out to be early-stage growth companies, but VF has been able to take them to the next level."


VF now makes everything from sneakers to parkas, but it got its start as a glove and mitten manufacturer when John Barbey opened a factory in Reading, Pa., in 1899. (The family trust is still the largest shareholder.) The company started making undergarments in 1919 and listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1966 as Vanity Fair Mills. Showing the knack for sensing the zeitgeist that has served it so well of late, the company entered the denim business in 1969 with the purchase of H.D. Lee jeans. It also changed its name to VF the same year to deemphasize its underwear line. In 1986 VF took a huge step, buying Blue Bell. The acquisition doubled its size and added Wrangler and Rustler jeans as well as Jantzen swimwear and JanSport backpacks to what had become a thoroughly diversified lineup.

And then VF stalled. It owned some of the most recognized names in apparel and made healthy profits. But the brands were not growing, and the company lacked ideas and energy. VF was a fashion giant, but a tired one. Recognizing the dilemma, the board began to press for better performance. "Figuring out how to grow the top line was key," says director Robert Hurst.

Mackey McDonald, a former U.S. Army pilot who joined VF in 1983 from Sara Lee and became CEO in 1996, agreed with the board that "we would have to change dramatically." He consulted friends like A.G. Lafley, now CEO of Procter & Gamble, and Jeffrey Immelt, head of General Electric. They invited VF management to take a look at their operations. As a result, recalls McDonald, who is still chairman but handed over the CEO job in January to Eric Wiseman, "We began to focus a lot less on manufacturing apparel and a lot more on building brands." The biggest lesson, McDonald muses, was that "we realized we didn't have to come up with brilliant ideas - we needed brilliant ways of executing good ideas."

As part of its soul-searching, VF accepted that it was no longer enough to churn out oceans of dungarees and underwear. Those low-margin items were the commodities of the fashion world and a guarantee that the blahs would continue. Instead, VF decided to bet on "lifestyle brands" that tap into consumer aspirations to fashion, status, and well-being -- and carry a price premium. One such brand was The North Face, a maker of outdoor gear such as ski jackets and fleece vests; sports enthusiasts loved the brand, which had also crossed over to become a favorite among the urban crowd.


But if North Face's management had been an expedition team, it would have broken down one day's hike from base camp. Orders were late and often incomplete, and finances were a mess. In 1999, North Face lost $100 million on $238 million in sales. VF pounced, buying it in 2000 for $136.6 million.

The first task was to unravel North Face's gnarled supply chain. VF plugged North Face into its network of factories in Asia and what is now a 1,100-person procurement office in Hong Kong. "We went from shipping half the orders on time to over 90% on time," says Mike Egeck, who joined VF in 2000 to run North Face and oversees the company's contemporary-apparel labels. Once operations were smoothed out, VF boosted growth by adding a women's line and developing new products like shoes. VF does not break out sales figures for individual brands, but North Face is the cornerstone of the outdoor division, whose sales have grown threefold since 2003, to $2.4 billion. "North Face was a watershed moment," concludes VF board member Daniel Hesse, because it proved that VF could play, and win, the lifestyle game.

With the success of the North Face acquisition, McDonald felt certain the company had the right formula. So he went shopping. Between 2000 and the first quarter of this year, VF spent $2.8 billion to buy 18 brands, among them Nautica, which brought with it the John Varvatos label; Vans; luggage maker Kipling; Napapijri, which sells ski clothes and other apparel; Reef, which has a cult following among surfers; 7 for All Mankind, a premium denim brand; and Lucy, a maker of yoga pants and other active wear. During the same period, VF divested slower-growing businesses, even its namesake Vanity Fair brand.

But anyone can go on a shopping spree and end up with a closetful of duds - just ask Liz Claiborne or Jones Apparel, which are busy divesting many of their acquisitions. VF proved to have a shrewder fashion sense - picking up promising brands and then making them bigger. One reason for its success is that it often spends years examining a brand and developing a relationship with management before signing on the dotted line. (Since 2004 it has had a dedicated M&A team to scout out and analyze new targets.) VF also believes in retaining most of the management of the companies it purchases; then it brings in fresh talent or adds its own expertise where necessary. So when 7 for All Mankind wanted to expand in Europe, for example, VF helped with the logistics, setting up contacts with retailers and distribution centers. Finally, VF is careful not to sap its offspring of their personalities. Reef executives typically start the workday catching waves near their Carlsbad, Calif., office. The Vans headquarters in Cypress, Calif., boasts a halfpipe ramp and concrete floor so that employees can skateboard to meetings. The bosses in Greensboro don't mind a bit.

Not all of the repotted seedlings have flourished. A 2005 relaunch of the Nautica brand fell flat, and Napapijri, which has been growing fast in Europe, faces challenges as it tries to become a household name in the U.S. But VF's batting average remains the envy of the industry; the company made more than $591 million last year.

Wiseman, who took over as CEO just as the U.S. economy began to weaken, knows that it's up to him to keep the hits coming. Without new acquisitions and more growth from the old ones, VF won't make its financial targets, such as reaching $11 billion in revenues by 2012. Wiseman, an avid runner, knows he is in for a long haul. "I tell our employees this is going to be a 'run uphill' year." But then, VF has come a long way already.

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GAO: Millions wasted on gov't cards

Pedestrians walk by a Sharper Image store in Beverly Hills, Calif. in this Feb. 27, 2008 file photo. Veterans Affairs employees last year racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in government credit-card bills at casino and luxury hotels, movie theaters and high-end retailers such as The Sharper Image and Franklin Covey - and government auditors are investigating, citing past spending abuses. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)
AP Photo: Pedestrians walk by a Sharper Image store in Beverly Hills, Calif. in this Feb. 27,...

WASHINGTON - Federal employees charged millions of dollars for Internet dating, tailor-made suits, lingerie, lavish dinners and other questionable expenses to their government credit cards over a 15-month period, congressional auditors say.

A report by the Government Accountability Office, obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, examined spending controls across the federal government following reports of credit-card abuse at departments including Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs.

The review of card spending at more than a dozen departments from 2005 to 2006 found that nearly 41 percent of roughly $14 billion in credit-card purchases, whether legitimate or questionable, did not follow procedure — either because they were not properly authorized or they had not been signed for by an independent third party as called for in federal rules to deter fraud.

For purchases over $2,500, nearly half — or 48 percent — were unauthorized or improperly received.

Out of a sample of purchases totaling $2.7 million, the government could not account for hundreds of laptop computers, iPods and digital cameras worth more than $1.8 million. In one case, the U.S. Army could not say what happened to computer items making up 16 server configurations, each of which cost nearly $100,000.

Agencies often could not provide the required paperwork to justify questionable purchases. Investigators also found that federal employees sometimes double-billed or improperly expensed lavish meals and Internet dating for many months without question from supervisors; the charges were often noticed only after auditors or whistle-blowers raised questions.

"Breakdowns in internal controls over the use of purchase cards leave the government highly vulnerable to fraud, waste and abuse," investigators wrote, calling the governmentwide failure rate in enforcing controls "unacceptably high."

"This audit demonstrates that continued vigilance over purchase card use is necessary," the 57-page report stated.

The report calls for the General Services Administration and Office of Management and Budget, both of which help administer the government's credit-card program, to set guidance to improve accounting for purchased items, particularly Palm Pilots, iPods and other electronic equipment that could be easily stolen.

OMB and GSA were also urged to tighten controls over convenience checks, which are a part of the credit-card program, and to remind federal employees that they will be held responsible for any items if the purchases are later deemed improper.

In response, both OMB and GSA agreed with portions of the report. But GSA administrator Lurita Doan noted the vast majority of federal employees use their cards properly and that many oversight measures already are in place. She acknowledged there is room for improvement but added that by using purchase cards the federal government saves about $1.8 billion in administrative costs each year.

"We agree that no level of abuse or misuse is acceptable," Doan wrote.

The GAO study comes amid increasing scrutiny of purchase cards, which are used by 300,000 federal employees and are directly payable by the U.S. government.

The AP reported Sunday that VA employees last year racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in government credit-card bills at casino and luxury hotels, movie theaters and high-end retailers such as Sharper Image. Government auditors have been investigating these and similar charges, citing past spending abuses.

In Tuesday's report, investigators did not seek to determine the extent of fraud or waste at each agency. They cited numerous cases of questionable spending, which they said represented what could be found government-wide, including the VA.

"The purchase card is a useful tool for the government, and in no way are we suggesting it shouldn't continue to be used widely," said Gregory D. Kutz, GAO's managing director of forensic audits and special investigations, in a telephone interview. "However, I would say these cases once again show that lack of internal controls cost taxpayers millions of dollars and thus continued focus is needed on improving these controls."

Among the expenditures cited in the report:

_An Agriculture Department employee fraudulently wrote 180 convenience checks for more than $642,000 to a live-in boyfriend over a six-year period. The money was used for gambling, car and mortgage payments, dinners and retail purchases that went unnoticed until USDA's inspector general received a tip from a whistle-blower. The employee, who pleaded guilty to embezzlement and tax fraud charges, was sentenced last year to 21 months in prison and ordered to repay the money.

_U.S. Postal Service workers separately billed more than $14,000 to government credit cards for Internet dating services and a dinner at a Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Orlando, Fla., for 81 people at a cost of $160 each for steaks and crab. The dinner bill also included more than 200 appetizers and more than $3,000 worth of wine and brand-name liquor such as Courvoisier, Belvedere and Johnny Walker Gold.

In the Internet dating case, a postmaster charged $1,100 over 15 months for two online services, including the Ashley Madison Agency. The expenses went unnoticed for more than a year even though he was under internal investigation for viewing pornography on a government computer. The postmaster was eventually told to repay the Internet charges but faced no disciplinary action.

_At the Pentagon, four employees purchased $77,700 in clothing and accessories at high-end clothing and sporting goods stores. The spending included more than $45,000 at Brooks Brothers and similar stores for tailor-made suits — $7,000 of which were purchased a week before Christmas. The credit-card holders said the items were for service members working at U.S. embassies with civilian attire. Pentagon rules allow purchases of civilian clothing when performing official duty, but generally only up to $860 per person.

_Justice Department and FBI employees charged $11,000 at a Ritz Carlton hotel for coffee and "light" refreshments for 50 to 70 attendees for four days, averaging about $50 per person. Seventy percent of the total conference cost of $15,000 was for the food and beverages, while audiovisual and other support services totaled only about $4,000, or 30 percent of the charges. It was not clear what action, if any, that Justice took in light of the conference expenses, which GAO deemed excessive.

_At the State Department, one credit-card holder bought $360 worth of women's lingerie at Seduccion Boutique for use during jungle training by trainees of a drug enforcement program in Ecuador. One State Department official later agreed that the charge was questionable and stated that he would not have approved the purchase had he known about it.

"Too many government employees have viewed purchase cards as their personal line of credit," said Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security subcommittee on investigations, which requested the GAO report. "When money that was intended to pay for critical infrastructure, education and homeland security is instead being spent on iPods, lingerie and socializing, we must immediately remedy the problem."

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who chairs the investigations subcommittee, agreed. "Although internal controls over government credit cards have improved, we still have a long way to go to stop the fraudulent use of these cards," he said.

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PM not attending Olympics opening

Gordon Brown, Tessa Jowell and Denise Lewis
Mr Brown received the Olympic torch at Downing Street on Sunday

Prime Minister Gordon Brown will not attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, Downing Street says.

However, he will be at the closing ceremony when the Olympic baton will be passed to London.

A spokeswoman said Mr Brown had never planned to attend the opening ceremony and was not boycotting the Games.

Number 10 claimed that the Chinese knew Mr Brown would not attend the opening ceremony - but the official state media had reported Mr Brown would be there.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said Number 10 should have made the situation clear in the first place.

He told BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight: "Chancellor Merkel in Germany and President Sarkozy in France saying quite specifically that they might not go to the opening ceremony shows that the debate has always been about the opening ceremony.

"So now suddenly to be asked to believe by Number 10 that they never really intended to go in the first place either smacks of a rather odd way of going about things or just downright incompetence."

Gordon Brown has not performed an Olympic U-turn but, thanks to his and his team's cack handedness, it looks to the world as if he has
BBC political editor Nick Robinson

The Olympics minister Tessa Jowell will represent the UK at the opening in Beijing in August.

Downing Street spokesmen have said in recent months that Mr Brown - who has been under pressure to boycott the Olympics over China's human rights record - would attend the closing ceremony, without mentioning the opening ceremony

And reporters due to travel with Mr Brown were said to have booked summer holidays on the basis the PM would be going only to the closing ceremony.

However, it appears the Chinese believed that Mr Brown - who has talked of Britain attending "ceremonies" - would be at the setpiece opening ceremony.

The Olympics have always been politically motivated so protests should be accepted
Thomas, Guilford

On 27 March, at a press conference during France's President Sarkozy's visit, he said: "We will not be boycotting the Olympic Games; Britain will be attending the Olympic Games ceremonies.

"At the same time, the president has said that the Dalai Lama has not called for a boycott of the Olympic Games."

At his Downing Street news conference on 1 April, Mr Brown said: "I think President Sarkozy said himself that he expected Britain, because we are going to host the next Olympics, to be present at the Olympic ceremonies and I will certainly be there."

Serious disruption

BBC sports editor Mihir Bose said Mr Brown's decision not to attend the opening ceremony was in keeping with his attitude to China's Olympics - that he has to do his duty without being seen as a supporter.

The UK needs to be represented at the closing ceremony because London takes over from Beijing as the next Olympic city.

He said Mr Brown was not alone in agonising over how to respond to the worldwide protests surrounding the 2008 Games.

The International Olympic Committee, which has gathered in the Chinese capital, is also wrestling with its strategy, our correspondent added.

The Olympic torch has arrived in San Francisco under tight security for the sixth leg of its round-the-world relay.

Scuffle as Konnie Huq holds the torch
The torch's visit to London was disrupted by anti-China protesters
Confusion marked the start of the only North American leg of the relay, as its route was diverted to avoid thousands of protesters.

Crowds of pro-Tibetan and pro-Beijing demonstrators are on the streets, prompting fears of violence.

Shortly before the relay began, police said the route would be cut. Then the lit torch was carried away from crowds.

Protests have already caused serious disruption to legs of the relay in London and Paris. In Paris, the torch had to be extinguished three times, while in London there were 37 arrests.

Mr Brown attracted controversy for receiving the Olympic torch outside 10 Downing Street, although he did not hold it.

Most demonstrators are protesting over a security crackdown in Tibet after anti-Chinese unrest.

Tibetan exile groups say Chinese security forces killed dozens of protesters. Beijing says about 19 people were killed in rioting.

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Oil reaches $112 for the first time

NEW YORK ( -- Oil prices surged to record levels Wednesday, topping $112 a barrel, after a government report showed an unexpected decline in crude supplies.

U.S. crude for May delivery climbed $2.37 to settle at $110.87 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, a new closing record.

Oil also set a new intraday high of $112.21 earlier in the session. The previous intraday high of $111.80 was set March 17, while the previous closing high of $110.33 was set March 13.

In its weekly inventory report, the Energy Information Administration said crude stocks fell by 3.2 million barrels in the week ended April 4. Analysts had been expecting an increase of 2.4 million barrels, according to a Dow Jones poll.

The EIA said gasoline supplies fell by 3.4 million barrels. Analysts had only expected a drop of 2.3 million barrels. Distillates, used to make heating oil and diesel fuel, fell by 3.7 million barrels, more than the expected drop of 1.2 million barrels.

Record gas prices. The supply report comes on a day when average gasoline prices hit a new record high of $3.343 at the pump, according to AAA. Prices are up nearly 20% from what they were last year.

This was despite the fact that demand for gasoline was up just 0.3% compared to the same period last year, according to the EIA report. Gasoline demand usually grows at about 1.5% per year, but the slowing economy and rising prices have led consumers to cut back on driving.

Analysts said refiners are making less gas, and that's contributing to the pump price surge, especially as the warm weather driving season approaches.

Refineries are running at 83.1% capacity, according to the EIA. They should be running at 89% to 90% this time of year, said Mark Waggoner, president of Excel Futures, a California-based commodities trading firm.

"Oil companies need to ramp up ... fast," he said.

Weak dollar. Before the EIA issued its report, oil prices were already higher due to the dollar's slide against the euro Wednesday.

Many investors see commodities such as oil as an effective hedge against a falling dollar and inflation. Also, a weaker greenback makes oil cheaper to investors overseas.

Analysts attribute much of oil's rise this year to speculative buying tied to the falling dollar.

With the Federal Reserve expected to cut rates several more times this year, which will likely further weaken the dollar, oil prices may continue rising despite tepid demand.

- from staff and wire reports

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50 Cent, Universal sued for pushing "gangsta" life

1 of 1Full Size

By Edith Honan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hip hop mogul 50 Cent, Universal Music Group and several of its record labels were sued on Wednesday for promoting a "gangsta lifestyle" by a 14-year-old boy who says friends of the rapper assaulted him.

The lawsuit filed by James Rosemond and his mother, Cynthia Reed, says Universal Music Group -- owned by Vivendi SA -- and its labels Interscope Records, G-Unit Records and Shady Records, bear responsibility for the assault because they encourage artists to pursue violent, criminal lifestyles.

The lawsuit also names 50 Cent -- whose real name is Curtis Jackson -- Violator Management, Violator CEO Chris Lighty, Tony Yayo, a rapper and a member of 50 Cent's G-Unit hip hop group, and Lowell Fletcher, an employee of Yayo.

All defendants declined to comment.

Rosemond says he was assaulted on a Manhattan sidewalk in March 2007 by four men including Yayo and Fletcher.

The lawsuit claims Rosemond was targeted because he was wearing a T-shirt by Czar Entertainment, a management company that represents The Game. The Game is a former G-Unit rapper who fell out with the group and had become a rival rapper.

In February, Yayo, whose real name is Marvin Bernard, pleaded guilty to harassment and was sentenced to ten days of community service. Fletcher pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of a child and was sentenced to 9 months in jail.

"The members of G-Unit, including defendants Yayo and 50 Cent, encouraged, sanctioned, approved and condoned its members threatening violence, and or engaging in violent acts in furtherance of its business," the lawsuit said.

The attack on Rosemond was intended to "promote and maintain Yayo and 50 Cent's 'gangsta' image," which was "promoted, marketed and advertised" by record labels.

(Editing by Michelle Nichols and Todd Eastham)

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Athens School 'Attack' Proven To Be False, Girl To Be Charged

There are major new developments today in the case of a supposed beating of a student from Athens Middle School.

Charges are being filed against 13 year old Melanie Bowers by Athens ISD through the Henderson County District Attorney's office for filing a false report, said AISD officials today.

Bowers claimed earlier this week that she was beaten and threatened - with killing and rape, no less - by a group of students at Athens ISD last Friday, for creating a protest sign saying, "If you love our nation, stop illegal immigration."

After Melanie's accusations, administrators reviewed school survellience videotape of the incident - which, instead of showing students beating or attacking her, showed Bowers scratching herself on her arms, face, and neck, and walking through the halls of the school calmly long after she claimed the incident happened.

After Melanie's parents were presented with that information and the video, the school confronted Melanie, and she admitted that she made the story up.

The poster was indeed taken from Melanie, but she reported the incident to a teacher and was sent back to class. 3 students involved in taking Melanie's project were in 'in school suspension' for today only.

Bowers' parents have apologized to school administrators for their daughter, and Bowers' father, Gary Bower Jr., is agreeing with the charges against her. "I have reviewed the recording and agree with the charges that will need to be filed," he has said today.

Melanie's mother, Shera Bowers, released a statement which reads, "I see my daughter was not assaulted, and put the marks on her body. No gang violence as witnessed. She filed a false report."

KLTV 7 News will have video of the tape from Athens ISD tonight on KLTV 7 News at 5:00, 6:00, and 10:00 pm.

Cathryn Khalil, reporting.

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Gas Prices Slip, but Could Hit $4

By John Wilen, AP Business Writer

Gas Prices Slip From Record, but Could Reach $4 a Gallon This Spring, the Government Said NEW YORK (AP) -- Retail gasoline prices pulled back slightly from record levels Tuesday and gave some consumers a small break, but a new government forecast said gas could reach as high as $4 a gallon during the summer driving season.

Oil futures prices, meanwhile, fell as the dollar stabilized, giving investors an opportunity to lock in profits from crude's recent rally. Limiting the declines were developments in Iran, which announced plans to expand its uranium enrichment program and said it has tested key equipment, a move that raised the market's concerns about political conflict that could affect the country's oil exports.

In its monthly report on petroleum supplies and demand, the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration forecast that monthly average pump prices will peak near $3.60 a gallon in June, but could rise as high as $4 a gallon at times. That's a dime higher than the EIA's previous monthly average projection, and brings government forecasts closer to those of many analysts who expect gas prices to peak close to $4 a gallon.

The government also predicted high prices will cut demand for gasoline at the height of the summer. Gas consumption will fall by about 0.4 percent during the peak summer months, and overall consumption of petroleum products will drop by 90,000 barrels a day this year, the EIA said. The agency previously said petroleum consumption would rise by 40,000 barrels a day.

High prices are already having an impact on demand, which has fallen since January.

On Tuesday, regular unleaded gas prices slipped slightly to a national average of $3.331 a gallon from Monday's record of $3.339, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. Prices are 55 cents higher than a year ago.

Crude oil's rise above $100 earlier this year is the main reason gas prices have been rising. Crude futures rose to a trading record of $111.80 last month, and have since traded in a range between about $100 and $110.

On Tuesday, light, sweet crude for May delivery fell 59 cents to settle at $108.50 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, but alternated between gains and losses. The dollar stabilized against the euro Tuesday, making oil less effective as a hedge against inflation. That led some investors to take profits from a rally that's added 8 percent to the price of a barrel of crude in a week. Analysts believe the dollar's long decline fed the investment surge that pushed oil above $100 earlier this year.

However, the declines were limited by concerns about Iran's announcement that it has begun installing and testing equipment at a uranium enrichment plant. The U.N. Security Council has already passed sanctions against Iran for expanding its nuclear program, and the market is concerned that an escalation of tensions could affect oil exports from the Middle East.

"The announcement of the (equipment) there I think makes people a little bit nervous," said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research Inc. in Amherst, Mass.

Many analysts expect oil prices to rise higher in coming months, possibly above last month's records, as the Federal Reserve cuts interest rates later in the year. Lower rates tend to weaken the dollar. Minutes of the Fed's March meeting, released Tuesday afternoon, showed policymakers were far from unified in their decision to cut the key federal funds rate by three-quarters of a percentage point, but are worried about the severity of the economic slowdown.

High oil prices have also sent diesel prices higher. Diesel's national average price rose 1.3 cents to $4.02 a gallon on Tuesday, AAA said, within 2 cents of last month's record.

"We'll set a new record this week -- probably in the $4.05 to $4.10 a gallon neighborhood," said Tom Kloza, publisher and chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service in Wall, N.J.

Diesel fuel is used to transport most of the world's food, industrial and consumer products, and is one of the reason food prices have risen so sharply this year.

In other Nymex trading Tuesday, May heating oil futures rose 2.59 cents to settle at $3.1102 a gallon. Analysts said heating oil prices are being pushed higher by strong global demand for diesel, which is closely related to heating oil, and a fire that shuttered a refinery in Finland.

May gasoline futures fell 3.31 cents to settle at $2.7504 a gallon, and May natural gas futures fell 9.4 cents to settle at $9.697 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, May Brent crude fell 80 cents to settle at $106.34 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

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