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Education Office Could Quintuple Staff

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By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education could increase its staff from about 80 employees to more than 400 under a reorganization plan prompted by the mayoral takeover of the District's public schools.

The agency will mostly take responsibility for programs already established and funded and doesn't anticipate many new hires, said Deborah A. Gist, state superintendent of education. A financial officer calculated the estimate of 400 employees at the request of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who set aside $26 million for the office in his 2008 budget, Gist said.

Officials don't have a complete list of the city agencies and departments from which the employees will come.

The uncertainty over the staff illustrates how difficult it can be to separate and merge bureaucracies, even within a single jurisdiction such as the District.

One large challenge comes in determining whether programs should be administered at the local or state level in a city with one public school system and 55 charter schools.

"Even though D.C. isn't a state, we have state responsibilities," Gist said.

Those responsibilities have historically included overseeing federal school nutrition programs, enrollment counts, residency requirements, postsecondary financial aid grants and educational research. Fenty renamed the former State Education Office in mid-June and expanded the responsibilities to include setting citywide policies, overseeing charter school funding and collecting statistics for reports. Public and charter schools will still have control of their curriculum, staff and day-to-day operations, Gist said.

The new office will take responsibility of the adult literacy program at the University of the District of Columbia and the Early Care and Education Administration, she said, and the programs' funding will be transferred.

But other programs, such as special education and English language instruction, are already closely intertwined with local programs and could be more difficult to separate. Gist said the school district has "some people who are spending 50 percent of their time on state and 50 percent on local," and those duties need to be split into two positions.

Mary M. Levy, director of the Public Education Reform Project and a member of task forces aiding the transition, said the creation of charter schools, which receive the same amount of money per child as public schools, has necessitated a state office.

"We need to have a different kind of structure," she said.

Jeff Smith, a former D.C. Board of Education member who is executive director of the school advocacy group DC VOICE, said that education advocates have long wanted to increase the strength of the state office but that "there would have never been the funds to do that. If done properly, it will help. But it's at a cost to the city."

In many states, the superintendent's office is the highest office and oversees a number of districts. The Virginia superintendent's office employs about 300 people and oversees programs similar to those in the District. The Maryland office employees about 700 people who oversee 24 school districts. Unlike other states, the Maryland office also offers child-care certification, job training for impaired adults and prison education programs.

"There is no standard definition of 'state functions,' " Levy said. "There's a lot of variation among states as to what 'state' means."


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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