The D.C. Board of Education, facing growing disenchantment by Ward 1 residents who feel they are unrepresented, voted yesterday to try again this month to appoint a member to fill its Ward 1 seat.
Meanwhile yesterday, D.C. Superior Court Judge John D. Fauntleroy refused to grant a request by the Ward 1 Democratic organization that the court order the school board to make an immediate appointment.
Ward 1 residents have not had exclusive representation by a board member since last December when then school board member Frank Smith Jr. vacated the seat to assume his post as a member of the City Council. Yesterday's 9-to-0 vote came after an hour-long closed-door session in which the board worked out a new list of rules to use in the selection process. One of the board members, R. Calvin Lockridge (Ward 8), was absent.
"It won't be an easy decision in view of the many qualified candidates," said board Vice President Nathaniel Bush, who was the only board member who wanted to keep voting until an appointment was made last February. "I think we are capable of making a decision."
The board will meet May 31 to vote again and each member will have only one vote per ballot instead of the 11 votes-per-ballot procedure used unsuccessfully last February.
To be considered in the vote, prospective candidates must be nominated by a board member. In effect, that means that any of the 11 former candidates, as well as others not involved in the first vote, are eligible to be nominated.
Under the new selection rules, the board has agreed to keep voting until a candidate receives six votes. "We have attempted to do this in good faith and we are going to try again," board President David Eaton said yesterday.
"I'm elated," said Lawrence Guyot, a member of the Ward 1 Democrats. "This is the best of all possible worlds. We will have a Ward 1 representative."
But Barbara Lett-Simmons (At-Large), who voted with the other school board members to try to appoint a Ward 1 representative yesterday, argued that the emergency procedures perpetuated "a violation of the electoral process." She has maintained that the seat should be filled only by an election rather than an appointment.
The board also voted yesterday to send a legislative proposal to the City Council to change the D.C. Code to allow school board vacancies to be filled by special election rather than by appointment.
When the City Council, after much discussion, denied a request from the board for a special election, the board allowed Eaton (At Large) to continue in a dual role as interim Ward 1 representative and board president. But several community groups objected, including the Ward 1 Democrats, who sued this week to force the board to appoint someone.
In court yesterday, Judge Fauntleroy said he was sympathetic to the concerns of the Ward 1 Democrats who sued the school board in an attempt to get representation. But he said he was "not satisfied" that the court has the authority to force the board to make an appointment or to appoint someone on its own, as the suit had recommended.
Fauntleroy scheduled another hearing for June 2. "At that time, hopefully, the board of education will have resolved this problem," he said.