Some Voters Doubt New State School Board's Value

By Timothy Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 26, 2008

It's been 12 years since Lady-Patricia Butler could vote for a candidate to solely represent her ward on the District's Board of Education.

So Tuesday evening, she attended a candidates forum at Luke C. Moore Academy in Northeast and listened carefully as two people made their pitch for the Ward 5 seat on the state board of education.

But the more they spoke, the more Butler became "gravely concerned."

Both candidates, Robert Vinson Brannum and Mark Jones, told the audience that the new state board of education is an advisory body to the District's state superintendent of education and has no direct influence on the decisions made by D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee.

"If the board can be ignored by the chancellor, then what do you propose to do about our issues?" Butler asked.

It's a question many District residents, and some candidates, want answered as they cast their ballots for a fully elected nine-member D.C. State Board of Education next month, with one member for each ward and one at-large member.

The last time Butler could vote for a solely Ward 5 representative to the school board was in 1996. This time, Brannum, Jones and Angel Sherri Alston are on the ballot for Ward 5.

Eight years ago, the structure of the board of education went from an all-elected body to a hybrid board of elected members and mayoral appointees, and each elected member represented two wards.

Last year, the board was stripped of the day-to-day management of public schools when the D.C. Council agreed to give Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) authority over all school curriculum, operations, personnel and facilities.

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education was created in October to perform state-level functions to ensure that D.C. schools comply with federal regulations and guidelines.

But the state board of education does have the authority to approve academic standards in schools and early childhood education programs, policies for parental involvement, and teaching accreditation and certification.

"Our focus now is what goes on in the classroom," said Ted Trabue, whom Fenty appointed to the board as an at-large member. Trabue will run unopposed for the at-large seat; former state board president Robert C. Bobb decided not to seek reelection.

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