In her next job, D.C. School Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie will push for corporate involvement in public education, speak out on school issues and keep working to boost minority achievement -- pretty much what she's done in the District for six years.
Why, then, is the popular schools chief leaving this winter to form an education consulting group at the Washington law firm of Hogan and Hartson?
Because she wants less stress, more autonomy and more money, according to McKenzie's staff and bosses, the members of the District school board.
McKenzie, 52, announced last month that she will stay as superintendent until sometime this winter, depending on when she qualifies for a pension, a date that has not yet been computed. She will then create The McKenzie Group, a small partnership owned by McKenzie and the law firm. It will operate from the firm's downtown building.
While McKenzie will have close ties to the law firm, most of her business will be from clients she recruits, said David S. Tatel, a Hogan and Hartson partner and former head of the federal Office of Civil Rights.
By working with the law firm, McKenzie gets an injection of capital and access to the firm's clients, which include large school districts such as St. Louis, Richmond and Milwaukee. The firm gets to offer its clients a wider range of education services, lower rates than an all-lawyer staff might charge, and the cachet of working with one of the nation's top educators.
"The more education work we've done, the more it's become apparent that our clients' requests involve legal and education issues," Tatel said. For example, a school district that hires the firm for legal advice on desegregating schools also may want help developing magnet schools. Or a school district considering searching student lockers may want advice on the constitutionality and emotional impact of the policy.
McKenzie, who declined to be interviewed for this article before she left for a two-week National Geographic Society field trip to Australia, had been discussing the Hogan and Hartson deal for more than a year before she announced her decision. Last spring, during her negotiations for a new contract with school board President R. David Hall (Ward 2), the superintendent insisted that she be allowed to leave at any point of the three-year pact.
"The clear understanding was that she would be here for maybe one more year," said board member Bob Boyd (Ward 6).
While many board members thought McKenzie might stay until 1988, waiting to see if a Democratic victory in the national elections might result in a federal post, the superintendent had another agenda. For almost a year, she has told reporters that the "time to move on" was near, that the pressures of a big-city superintendency were enough to wear down any mortal.
Still, McKenzie's interest in becoming secretary of education is no secret. At least one Democratic presidential candidate has consulted her on education policy, and Hogan and Hartson lawyers say the firm has discussed the procedure it would follow in that situation.
The McKenzie deal fits squarely into a trend among large law firms. Hogan and Hartson already has a health-consulting group headed by a former hospital administrator, also a nonlawyer. And other firms have ventured into real estate development, investment banking and economic consulting.
"It's very economically beneficial to the firms," said Susan Schneider of Finn and Schneider Associates, a legal recruitment firm. "The firm can charge lower rates and get more of the client's business by handling their political, legislative and educational issues."
McKenzie is not expected to leave the District until at least February. However, her press spokesman and close aide, Janis Cromer, is to depart next month to begin organizing The McKenzie Group. Cromer said the group will have only a skeletal staff, using part-time consultants as needed by clients.
Cromer said McKenzie will continue and possibly increase her already busy schedule of speeches and workshops at conventions and school meetings around the country. "She plans to remain very visible," Cromer said.
Locally, however, McKenzie may seem scarce this term, school board members say. The superintendent stayed only a few minutes at the beginning of the September board meeting; a few days later, she left for the trip to Australia, a requirement of her position as a director of the Geographic Society.
McKenzie is drawing little criticism from her bosses on the board. They are glad to have her around and are especially hopeful that she will be able to help her successor learn the job.
"She's done a great job and nobody's forcing her out," Hall said."We'd have been happy if she had served out her contract."
In contract negotiations, the board agreed to allow the years McKenzie worked as an educator in Maryland to count toward her pension. Now McKenzie plans to stay in her post until she reaches the 30-year mark, a point that will come sometime this winter.
That will qualify her for a pension of 56 percent of her salary in the three years in which she was best paid. Based on her final three years in office, when she received $85,000 a year, McKenzie's pension will be $47,812 a year. Most school board members say they don't mind McKenzie's decision to stay on to qualify for the pension.
"It's really no problem," Hall said.
"The lady's tired," Boyd said. "She'd done a good job and she wanted to get out while she was riding a crest."
While McKenzie has told her staff that she will refuse to make any comments about the District system after she leaves, people such as Roderic Boggs, counsel to Parents United, the activist group, are nonetheless glad she will still be in town.
"She's falling into the best deal she can expect," he said. "She has an immense range of contacts in the field, which will help the law firm and her own business. And she'll be a young elder statesman for the District."