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EDITORIAL
Failing their duty
(Published March 21, 2005)

News that a member of the mayor's cabinet had been murdered reached the D.C. Board of Education during its monthly meeting, in the midst of an important debate over prioritizing capital funding to repair or rebuild dilapidated, aging D.C. public schools.

The board previously delayed acting on its five-year capital budget request for fixing the schools and, at its March 16 meeting, faced a tight deadline. At this writing, the mayor was scheduled to publicly present his proposed fiscal 2006 D.C. government budget on March 21 and to brief the D.C. City Council two days later during a morning public hearing.

So what did the school board do? The board adjourned its meeting, without finishing debate or taking action on the capital budget plan. On March 18, the board announced a special meeting, beginning at 4 p.m. on March 23, to complete its debate and vote after the mayor and the city council already have begun the budgeting process without the school board's long-term facilities recommendation.

Talk about closing the barn door after the horses get out. Once again, the school board has shown how deftly it can render itself insignificant to the legislative process.

More important, the board decided to stop its work despite the presence of a quorum that could have taken official action. We are told that the board made this decision in deference to its president, Peggy Cooper Cafritz, and vice president, Mirian Saez (whose resignation from the board becomes effective April 30), because their close friendship with the slain mayoral aide required that they leave the meeting.

We have no quarrel with Cafritz and Saez making a personal decision to leave the meeting upon hearing tragic news that touched their lives. However, the decision by the rest of the board to allow a personal tragedy for two of its members to stand in the way of completing the public's business was an abdication of the school board's legal responsibility. It shows that the current school board, like its dysfunctional predecessors, still allows personal concerns of board members to trump its duty to D.C. citizens especially the more than 60,000 children enrolled in public schools.

Do the members of the D.C. Board of Education know why the school board exists? It is incomprehensible that a quorum of the nine-member board appears incapable of completing its public business when two of its officers are absent. The board's failure, unfortunately, lends substantial support to the mayor's long-held position that an education czar is needed to run the public schools effectively.

The death of Wanda Alston, the mayor's liaison to the gay community, was indeed tragic. But it should not have brought the important work of the Board of Education to a halt.

Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator