Hybrid School Board Retained
D.C. Panel Will Be All-Elected After '08
By Sewell Chan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 14, 2004; Page B01
Nine months of debate and hand-wringing over the governance of the District's public schools came to an end yesterday as the D.C. Council voted to maintain the Board of Education's mix of elected and appointed members until 2008.
Council members, who battled Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) throughout the spring over his proposal to place the 64,000-student school system under his direct control, had little more to say about an issue that has both bedeviled and demoralized the city's elected officials.
After taking office in 1999, Williams advocated replacing the all-elected board, a structure that had been in place since 1968, with a mix of five elected members and four appointed by the mayor. But in the nearly four years since voters approved that change in a 2000 referendum, he has grown disenchanted with the board.
In September, he proposed giving the mayor the power to hire and fire superintendents and making the Board of Education an advisory panel, but after months of debate, the council rejected the plan in April. In May, the council narrowly approved a bill that would leave the current school board in place through 2006, but Williams vetoed the measure.
Yesterday's decision seemed anticlimactic, and council members appeared eager to close the debate. The bill to extend the school board's structure passed on a voice vote, with council members David A. Catania (R-At Large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) voting against it. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) was absent.
Gregory M. McCarthy, the mayor's top education adviser, said Williams plans to sign the bill. It extends the current structure of the school board until 2008, after which the board is to revert to an all-elected panel.
The decision to keep the current system comes as the city's search for a new superintendent has stalled. A finalist for the position, Carl A. Cohn of Long Beach, Calif., persuaded Williams to maintain the current structure, but then withdrew from consideration.
Catania said his vote was the result of "frustration and indignation" at the lack of progress in addressing the school system's failings.
"We are no further down the path towards a superintendent today than we were nine months ago when we started this," he said. "In my view, we did little. . . . This is a continuation of a broken status quo. A year has been wasted."
Council member Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7), who chairs the education committee, said it was "completely unfair and, frankly, incorrect" to say that no progress had been made since Paul L. Vance announced his resignation as superintendent in November.
Chavous said that the debate has produced an agreement between the mayor and the council and that attractive candidates are still interested in the job. Chavous, one of two council members on a search committee that includes the mayor, said the committee will conduct a "painstaking yet deliberate" review of possible candidates over the next few weeks.
Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D), the other council representative on the search committee, said the debate over whether the mayor or school board should oversee public education was ultimately unimportant to prospective superintendents. Above all, she said, candidates said they need continuity and a clear line of authority, regardless of who is in charge, before agreeing to come to the District.
"Honestly, folks, they have said it really makes no major difference what the governance structure is," Cropp said.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company