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Appointed board has already failed our public schools

(Published January 10, 2000)

An appointed governing board – with vast, unprecedented authority to change virtually anything unimpeded — has been running the D.C. Public Schools for the past three years.

Yet, almost all the "horror stories" of recent memory have occurred under the watch of this appointed five-member D.C. Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority (the "control board") and its "expert" advisory panel – the Emergency Transitional Education Board of Trustees.

Remember when schools opened three weeks late due to bungled building repairs? Remember the sudden discovery of a $62 million budget shortfall more than midway through the 1997-98 school year? Remember thousands of teachers and other school employees who still wonder when they open their paychecks if they’ll need to waste countless hours to rectify the errors wrought by a "computer problem"?

Those are but a few of the public school nightmares that had absolutely nothing to do with the elected D.C. Board of Education, which the control board stripped of all its authority in November 1996 on the day after D.C. voters chose a reform slate of candidates to take the helm.

Control board members didn’t like the voting public’s decision and thought they could do a better job of running the schools. Obviously, they were dead wrong.

That’s why we are puzzled by the vociferous assertions of Mayor Anthony Williams, Councilwoman Kathleen Patterson and a number of special interest groups that abolishing this city’s elected school board will fix what ails our public schools.

From where we sit, abolishing a non-partisan elected Board of Education that is directly accountable to this city’s voters and putting the fate of our schoolchildren in the hands of partisan politicians, on the city council or in the mayor’s office, spells big trouble.

An appointed "school board" that has the authority and the resources to do practically anything to reform the public schools has already failed in the District of Columbia. We don’t need to go down that road again.

We have said it before: Authority to run the D.C. Public Schools should be returned to the elected D.C. Board of Education immediately, not six months from now as currently planned.

Everybody says parents need to be more involved in their children’s education. They also need to be encouraged to participate at all levels of decision-making in the public schools, from the classroom to the boardroom. Their voice at the polls is an important part of the education process. The public needs to be brought into the schools, not shut out.

Copyright 2000, the Common Denominator