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School board looks to healing rift, moving forward

(Published July 26, 1999)

By LUTISHIA PHILLIPS

Staff Writer

Members of D.C.’s elected school board say their focus is on getting their powers back after they voted 6-4 to remove President Wilma Harvey July 22. Some question whether the board, which split into opposing factions over Harvey’s ouster, can now work together effectively.

Meanwhile, Harvey says she is taking the board to court.

Harvey and board members who support her say the special meeting during which she was removed was held "illegally." According to the board’s bylaws any five members of the board may call a special meeting of the board by informing the executive secretary in writing of the purpose of the special meeting not less than 48 hours prior to the meeting.

The bylaws also state a process for the board to annually elect from its members a president and vice president but make no mention of a process to remove a sitting board president.

Harvey and her attorney, Paul Strauss, did not return repeated phone calls for comment on Harvey’s threatened legal action against the board.

Some believe the split among board members is solidified based not only on their votes but also on the numerous personal attacks they made against each other at the meeting.

"Once the healing takes place, the board should be more focused on productivity," said board member Dwight Singleton, who as vice president is expected to assume the presidency. Singleton, at-large member Robert Childs, Tonya Kinlow, Ward 2 member Westy Byrd, Ward 3 member Don Reeves, and Ward 6 member Benjamin Bonham voted to remove Harvey. At-large member Gail Dixon, Ward 5 member Angie King Corley, Ward 7 member Tom Kelly, and Ward 8 member William Lockridge voted to keep her in office.

Singleton says he thinks the board can still work together.

"It’s up to everyone to reaffirm his or her commitment to the children," he said.

Singleton expressed some remorse at the situation but said it’s a way to learn how the procedure works. He said this would allow the board to look more closely at its relationship with Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, the control board and the Emergency Transitional Education Board of Trustees.

Byrd, who filed the initial complaint against Harvey, said in the past year the transition has not included all board members. She said she believes the board and the superintendent are committed to educating D.C. children.

"What is important is if we are to regain our authority, we must see a team approach to governance," she said.

Trustees chairman Maudine Cooper expressed some reservations about the board’s current ability to function as a governing body in light of the turmoil.

"There’s so much that needs to be fixed," said Cooper.

Cooper mentioned that the trustees’ relationship with board members has been excellent. In a letter to the editor, published in this issue of The Common Denominator, Cooper advised board members Harvey and Byrd to "stop the buck passing, political bickering and start working with each other."

"The issue is can they follow through with the transition plan and still be about the business of the children?" said Cooper. "I don’t think I could."

"We’re going to go right on with the transition," said at-large member Dixon. Dixon, who also chairs the transition committee, said recently on WAMU radio station that the board has always been split but she plans to continue to work on gaining the board’s powers back.

For some board members, Harvey’s removal marks a change in the board’s image.

Kinlow said the school board must maintain its motto to put children first. At the meeting, she said during Harvey’s tenure she hasn’t seen any advancement or improvement with the board.

"We must also convince the public and the media that we are evolving, " said Kinlow.

At-large Childs said he hopes the board can focus on issues like training new board members, parliamentary procedures, and bettering their relationships with the mayor and city council.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator