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Council approves untried school board reform model

(Published February 28, 2000)

Under pressure from control board chairman Alice M. Rivlin and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton to reach a compromise, Mayor Anthony A. Williams and D.C. City Council finally agreed Feb. 17 on a plan to change the makeup of the D.C. Board of Education.

But the mayor and the one-vote majority of council members who approved the compromise plan 7-6 acknowledge a lack of enthusiasm for the "hybrid" proposal they plan to ask voters to approve.

The mix of five elected board members and four mayorally appointed members hasn’t been tried anywhere before to anyone’s knowledge. Consequently, there’s been no evidence presented that such a hybrid board will be able to make any progress toward improving the problems the school governance debate was intended to resolve.

In addition to restructuring the D.C. Board of Education, the plan approved by city council would authorize the council to create a "state education agency" that would be responsible for:

•establishing requirements to govern acceptable credit to be granted for studies completed at independent, private, public, and public charter schools and private instruction;

•prescribing minimum a-mounts of instructional time for all public, private and public charter schools in the District;

•determining the content of basic standards used to assess all public school students where such assessments are required by law; and

•any other responsibilities not inconsistent with the provisions of the proposed change in the home rule charter.

In approving the new plan, the council cast aside its earlier plan to offer voters the option of a wholly appointed school board, favored by the mayor, or an elected school board of diminished size, supported by 10 members of the 13-member council.

The new plan, if approved by voters, would amend the city’s home rule charter to replace the currently constituted 11-member elected school board with a nine-member board.

Five members of the board would be elected. Voters citywide would elect the school board president. The other four elected members would be elected by compressing the city’s eight wards into four "school districts" that would each elect one board member. The school districts would combine Wards 1 and 2, Wards 3 and 4, Wards 5 and 6, and Wards 7 and 8.

The remaining four board members would be appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council.

The proposal specifically bars the school board from making school personnel decisions beyond those involved in hiring, evaluating or firing "for cause" a superintendent to run the public schools.

The new hybrid plan was approved by council Chair-man Linda Cropp and council members Carol Schwartz, R-At large; Jim Graham, D-Ward 1; Jack Evans, D-Ward 2; Charlene Jarvis, D-Ward 4; Sharon Ambrose, D-Ward 6; and Kevin P. Chavous, D-Ward 7, chairman of the council’s education committee.

Opposing the hybrid board proposal were council members David Catania, R-At large; Harold Brazil, D-At large; Phil Mendelson, D-At large; Kathleen Patterson, D-Ward 3; Vincent Orange, D-Ward 5; and Sandra Allen, D-Ward 8.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator