Meet the New School Board

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

PENDING BEFORE the D.C. Council is a bill titled the School Closing Fairness and Accountability Act of 2007. A more apt title would be "Reconstituting the Council of the District of Columbia into the Board of Education." This meddlesome piece of legislation runs counter to the council's wise decision to let the mayor run the schools, and, more important, it's not in the best interest of schoolchildren.

The bill, sponsored by council members Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), would micromanage the process by which schools are selected for closing and, most ominous, would give the right of final approval to the council. The legislation comes in the aftermath of the decision by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee to close 23 schools this year. Fortunately, these urgently needed closings wouldn't be affected even if council members were misguided enough to approve this bill.

Still, the implications are troubling for school reform. Any future decisions would become subject to the political interests and arm-wrestling of a council organized by ward. Forget about what's best for the system: District boundaries, community whim and political machinations would come into play. Without question, closing schools is painful, and it's too bad that some council members felt slighted. But Ms. Rhee called in experts, relied on hard data and held a series of public meetings before arriving at her decisions. City Administrator Dan Tangherlini got it exactly right when he testified that, for some, the best process for closing schools is not to close any. Such a situation existed too long in the District; it resulted in underused buildings that wasted resources and deprived children. Instead of trying to second-guess Ms. Rhee, council members should be thanking her for having the guts to make the hard decisions.

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