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Absentee ballots could change close count;

school board issue also faces court challenge

(Published July 3, 2000)


Staff Writer

With the results of the June 27 school board referendum still in question, city officials are proceeding with caution in preparing for the November ballot that will decide who sits on the school board. The control board is also preparing to consider naming a retired superintendent from Montgomery County to head the school system while a new permanent chief is sought.

The unofficial results of the special election show the measure passed by a margin of only 848 votes, with about 2,200 outstanding absentee and special ballots still to be tallied that could swing the results. The vote totals were 19,643 "for" and 18,795 "against" a proposed amendment to the home rule charter that would replace the cityís all-elected school board with a partially appointed body. Only 11.6 percent of registered voters came out to vote.

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics was scheduled to count the absentee and special ballots and certify the election results July 7, but a spokesman for the board said certification of the vote has been postponed. He would not give a reason for the postponement or say when the results would be certified.

Meanwhile, a July 13 hearing has been set in D.C. Superior Court to hear arguments in a lawsuit brought by Michigan Park resident Dino J. Drudi that asserts the city council failed to follow proper procedures when it passed the referendum. If the judge rules in Drudiís favor, the election could be declared null and void.

Drudi, who earlier lodged a similar complaint with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, is basing his case on the assertion that the final version of the bill passed by the council was not "substantially in the same form" as the previous reading because the council inserted an amendment that would let them decide the makeup of the school board after four years instead of the voters. District law requires that any act passed by the council must have two readings in substantially the same form so that citizens would get the opportunity to comment and participate in the shaping of the act. The elections board dismissed Drudiís complaint on May 2, saying it lacked jurisdiction to overrule the council.

Lawyers for the city and the council argue in the court case that because the bill dealt with the school board election all three times it was read before the council, the amendments that were made to the bill fell within a reasonable definition of being substantially similar.

Drudi won a temporary restraining order in Superior Court June 21 barring the elections board from counting, releasing and certifying the results of the referendum, but that order was overturned two days later by a three-judge appeals panel.

Kenneth Rosenau, Drudiís lawyer, said the July 13 hearing means the case is being "fast-tracked" in part because the elections board has to begin issuing petitions for school board candidates on July 7.

The D.C. financial control board, at a June 30 meeting, extended its control over the schools until the end of July while it awaits the fate of the referendum. Control over the schools was set to revert to the elected school board the following day.

In what seemed to be a signal of the control boardís willingness to go through with plans to return the elected school boardís power if the voters chose to keep the current board structure, the control board chose to extend its authority for only one month, rather than through the November elections or the January inaugurations. Control board Chairman Alice Rivlin indicated the board was waiting to see how the election and the lawsuit turned out before making any further decisions.

"It seemed appropriate until this whole thing gets settled," she said.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams, however, said he would move forward with plans to "come together with a consensus slate of candidates" for the November school board election. At a press conference the morning after the election, Williams claimed victory and pledged to work to heal the rifts caused by the campaigns.

He said he will be "looking at people who have a broad range of experience" to be his appointees to the restructured school board. He said he would take into consideration whether or not candidates have children in the public schools but wouldnít necessarily make it part of the criteria for selecting appointees.

Control board member Constance Newman said the newly appointed Educational Advisory Committee last week forwarded the name of a candidate for the job of interim superintendent of schools. School board Chairman Robert Childs confirmed the person chosen was retired Montgomery County superintendent Paul. L Vance. Newman said the board would take the matter under consideration after the Fourth of July holiday.

Vance, 69, served two four-year terms as schools chief for Montgomery County before retiring in 1999. He was selected from a field of six candidates interviewed by the advisory committee during the last two weeks of June. Vance also was on a short list of recommendations for interim superintendent that the elected school board submitted for the control boardís consideration shortly after Arlene Ackerman announced she was leaving for San Francisco on July 17.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator