front page - editorial archives  - search - community 

Get politics out of the schools
(Published December 17, 2001)

It’s been less than a year since the current D.C. Board of Education took office – the first board of a new "hybrid" partially elected/partially appointed variety created by a political compromise between the mayor, city council, control board and Congress that was then foisted on the voters, who narrowly approved it as a charter amendment.

Now apparently, the politicians have already given up on their own creation and, as next year’s re-election campaigns approach, they are interfering with the operation of the public schools again.

Mayor Anthony Williams, council education committee Chairman Kevin Chavous, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Congress-woman Connie Morella, who chairs a D.C. oversight subcommittee, all were quick to condemn the school board for its recent vote to shorten the current school year to close a suddenly "discovered" multimillion budget shortfall caused largely by past administrative mistakes.

While few in this community have publicly come to the board’s and the superintendent’s defense, the public should see through this charade as yet another effort by the politically powerful to use the children for their own political gain.

To their credit, the mayor and council now say they will "find" another $10 million to give to the schools (from yet undisclosed cutting in other parts of the city budget) so that the board may restore the eliminated school days.

Yet, this resolution could have occurred without the showy political spat. Reasonable individuals, rather than obscuring reality with rhetoric and tarring school officials in the process, could have calmly explained to the public that the school board did the right thing – albeit, controversial.

Rather than decimate the very programs that the board’s and school administrators’ cooperative efforts all year have worked to rebuild, the board chose to leave those efforts intact. Doing otherwise would have destroyed momentum and morale, sent the whole school reform effort back to Square One, wasted millions of tax dollars already spent, and hurt the children further.

Notably, the politicians who loudly criticized the school board’s decision never offered their own alternative to the budget cuts. They just said: "What you did is unacceptable." School board members also thought their action was unacceptable – but saw no better alternative. Clearly, in coming up with an extra $10 million for the schools, the mayor and council now see that the school board had no better choice.

Fixing pervasive problems in the public schools is not an easy – or overnight – task. The effort will, no doubt, be painful to some adults. Continuing to inject politics into the process, rather than relying on sound judgment, will not help the children.

Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator