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DCPTA, Parents United say mayor, council

should meet obligations, not take away votes

(Published January 17, 2000)


Staff Writer

Leaders of the cityís two major groups for parents of public schoolchildren are calling on the mayor and city council to meet their own legal obligations to the cityís children instead of reaching for the elected school boardís responsibilities.

"We do not trust the relationship between the mayor, the council and our schools because the issue seems to be how the mayor and council can do as little as possible on our schools, not how we can have good schools," said Delabian L. Rice-Thurston, executive director of Parents United for the D.C. Public Schools.

Rice-Thurston said the board of directors of Parents United Ė a group highly respected within the community for its long history of instigating public school improvements Ė voted unanimously to oppose all proposals to change the school systemís governance structure until Mayor Anthony A. Williams and D.C. City Council fund the schools in accordance with the laws they enacted within the past year.

"Right now we are angry that after working to establish a per-pupil funding formula to give a stable base of money to run our schools, the council violated its provisions," said Rice-Thurston, who explained that the formula was to be applied to the previous yearís certified enrollment count. Questions about the current school yearís enrollment figures have been blamed for continuing to hold up this yearís school funding.

Former school board member Linda H. Moody, who is now president of the D.C. Congress of Parent and Teacher Associations, said representatives of her organization recently met with the mayor to tell him they oppose his plan to take control of the schools and appoint an advisory school board.

She said the parents group also reminded the mayor that his current control of many city agencies that poorly deliver services to children means Mayor Williams needs to work harder at fulfilling his own obligations before trying to assume the elected school boardís duties.

"The kinds of things the mayor needs to work with the Board of Education on," Moody said, "are the weighted-school formula allocation, human relations training for staff, building and classroom management, hot cooked-on-the-premises school lunches, one-on-one counseling for students, behavior management training for employees, expediting of evaluations for special needs children, technology in every school, establishment of a network among agencies who have direct contact with children and many more."

Moody said her organization, which adopted a resolution at its annual convention last spring calling for restoration of the elected school boardís full authority, "recognizes the need for a drastic improvement" in the school systemís academic programs. But she said changing the school governance structure wonít resolve the problem.

"The mayor and the city council need to assist the school system in killing the root of the problem," said Moody, noting that her organization believes more efficient delivery of city services to assist families and children at the local-school level are needed Ė a problem that already sits squarely in the lap of the mayor and the city council.

"The answer is not taking away our right to vote, but to work with the system to improvement," Moody said.

Former school board member Barbara Lett Simmons echoed Moody by calling on the mayor to focus on reforming the city agencies currently under trusteeship and receivership.

"Let him take care of what is justifiably his before he reaches for more," Lett Simmons said.

Williams began touring D.C. schools this week and meeting with neighborhood groups to drum up support for his proposal. The mayorís plan, announced Jan. 5, was the fifth school board reform proposal to surface in recent weeks. Most city council members continue to say they support an elected school board in some form, except for Ward 3 Councilwoman Kathleen Patterson, who has presented her own plan for an appointed board.

The full council is expected to begin consideration Jan. 18 of the proposed school board reforms, almost all of which would require voters to change the cityís home rule charter in some way. The mayor and council say they are attempting to meet the deadline to place the question on the ballot for the cityís May 2 presidential primary election, largely because the elected school board is slated to have its full authority returned in June.

William Lockridge, Ward 8 school board member who recently was elected the boardís vice president, also called on the mayor and the council to refocus their energies from overhauling the elected board to attacking the problems that persistently plague the public school system.

"We canít pay our teachers on time," said Lockridge, who for the past year has chaired the elected school boardís fiscal affairs committee, though the board has no current authority over the school systemís finances. "When are they going to get a system that can pay our teachers, our principals and our staff on time?"

He also noted that the charter schools receive more money than the public schools, that the public schools did not receive full funding and that the public school system had difficulty procuring books for its pupils.

"If the school system is not funded on a proper level, you are not going to get a quality education for our children," he said.

City councilís education committee voted 3-1 Jan. 14 to pass two bills retaining an elected D.C. Board of Education while reducing its size from 11 to seven members and allowing the mayor to appoint a superintendent.

Committee chairman Kevin P. Chavous, D-Ward 7, called it a compromise that he hopes will "bridge the gap" between those favoring an appointed board and those favoring an elected one.

"Some of my committee members wanted an appointed board," said Chavous, who has previously advocated an entirely elected board.

Chavousí new bills would change the home rule charter to create "school districts" composed of two wards and have one board member represent each district. Wards 1 and 3 would comprise Special School District I; Wards 2 and 4 would comprise Special School District II; Wards 5 and 6 would comprise Special School District III, and Wards 7 and 8 would comprise Special School District IV. The other three board members, including the president, would be chosen in citywide elections. The board members would be required to reside for one year in the ward from which they are nominated.

During the 2000 elections, the candidates from Districts I, III, and one at-large candidate would vie for two-year terms. The candidates from District IV, the candidate for president, and the other at-large candidate would run for two-year terms. The non-presidential candidate receiving the highest number of votes would receive a four-year term. During the 2002 elections, the candidates from Districts I and III, and the other at-large candidate would compete for four-year terms.

The legislation would also change the home rule charter to empower the council to legislate the boardís roles and responsibilities and provide for the superintendent and school board to sign a memorandum of understanding delineating their responsibilities. The legislation would also permit the mayor to appoint or remove the superintendent with the Board of Educationís approval. The board would be able to establish personnel guidelines for hiring principals and other personnel but would be banned from collective bargaining or making personnel decisions.

Those council members voting in favor of the proposal were Chavous, Phil Mendelson D-At large, and Sharon Ambrose, D-Ward 6. Councilwoman Patterson, who supports an entirely appointed board provided the lone opposing vote. Councilwoman Carol Schwartz, R-At large, who favors an elected board, was out of town and did not vote.

Mayor Williams vowed to continue to push his proposal.

"I commend Councilman Chavous for taking positive steps on the issue of education reform, but I do not feel that his legislation goes far enough to create the accountability our education system needs," said Williams.

Williamsí proposal would create an appointed superintendent and an unpaid, five-member mayorally appointed school board that would serve for four-year terms. Current school board members earn $15,000 annually.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator