Maintaining that there are other ways to attract better teachers, the District school board rejected yesterday a call by a panel of prominent citizens to abolish the city's residency requirement.
Despite a study released last week showing the residency rule to be a key factor in whether new teachers keep their jobs, the board voted 8 to 2 to endorse the law requiring teachers to live in the city. The board will take a final vote on the policy tomorrow.
"It would have been nice to see something else happen, but this isn't surprising," said Roderic Boggs, an author of the report on teacher recruitment, which was commissioned by the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "Elected officials generally don't want to contend with issues where there could be a strong negative vote."
The board's vote in favor of the rule came moments after it split 5 to 5 on a proposal to not take any position on the issue. Six of the board's 11 members face reelection in November. "It's difficult in an election year for six people to take a position on this controversial issue," said member Wanda Washburn (Ward 3). Washburn and Bob Boyd (Ward 6) were the only members to oppose the rule. Board member Wilma Harvey (Ward 1) was not present for discussion or vote.
"I don't believe this is an issue we should be taking a position on," said member Nathaniel Bush (Ward 7), who is up for reelection. "The Council passed the law. Let the Council decide if they want to rescind it."
The D.C. Council is scheduled to consider the rule's impact on all city workers next month. The law allows the school board to exempt its employes, but the council may veto such a move.
Board member Linda Cropp (Ward 4), who passed on her turn to vote until all other members had spoken, cast the ballot that killed the no-position proposal. "People who work in this city ought to live in this city," she said.
The board buffered its endorsement of the residency requirement with a resolution asking the council to give the board authority to exempt its workers.
The board pledged to develop within a year incentives for good teachers to work in the city.
Board member Eugene Kinlow (At-Large) said the system could offer housing allowances and retention bonuses for teachers to stay. Member David Eaton (At-Large) suggested that the system buy land and build housing for teachers.
The report, backed by a panel of local educators, parents and lawyers, said the only way the city could attract better teachers is to waive residency, raise pay and test teachers' skills.
"We are becoming the training gateway for the suburban school systems," Boyd said. New teachers often stay in the District for a few months or years, then take higher-paying jobs in suburban systems that do not dictate where they live.
Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie, who opposed the rule, said more than 300 teachers were hired this summer without much difficulty, but warned, "Unless we come up with a very heavy package of incentives, we will be in great difficulty."