The Washington Post

D.C. may restore ombudsman to field parents complaints, concerns about schools

D.C. parents may soon be able to take their complaints and concerns about city education to an independent ombudsman charged with helping them navigate D.C. public schools and public charter schools.

The ombudsman position was created five years ago during the mayoral takeover of schools to ensure that, despite losing an elected school board, parents would have a voice, a way to vent and a central clearinghouse to take problems in need of investigation and resolution.

In 2007, then-Mayor Adrian Fenty appointed the District’s first and only official ombudsman, Tonya Vidal Kinlow. He called her “the city’s face of customer service for education.” To parents’ frustration, that face has since disappeared: Kinlow resigned in 2008 and the ombudsman’s office closed a few months later.

It’s technically still housed within the office of the deputy mayor for education, but the executive branch hasn’t put forth a nomination to fill the job or a budget to fund it.

The D.C. Council on a voice vote Tuesday tentatively approved a measure that would move the ombudsman to the State Board of Education, presumably giving that elected body the opportunity to nominate candidates to fill the job.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said the bill comes in response to parents and activists who sounded a consistent, clear call to resurrect the ombudsman position. The council will hold a final vote Dec. 18, its last meeting of 2012.

Mendelson and his colleagues supported the bill despite opposition from Mayor Vincent Gray (D), who wrote in a letter to council members that the position should remain in the executive branch and be reestablished only when there is enough money to do so.

The bill’s fiscal impact statement estimates appropriations of $340,000 to get the ombudsman’s office up and running, money that can better be used in classrooms, Gray wrote.

“While there have been a few instances where the services of an ombudsman may have been engaged over the past several years, there has not been enough demand to warrant reestablishment of an entire office.”

The mayor supported other sections of the bill, which give the State Board of Education autonomy to hire its own staff and develop its own budget. Previously, the state board was housed within the Office of the State Superintendent of Education and did not control its own staff and spending.

Here is the bill’s text and its accompanying report and fiscal impact statement.

Emma Brown writes about national education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.


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