D.C. school board President Nate Bush, in an unusually blunt rebuke of Superintendent Andrew E. Jenkins, said yesterday that the board will play a larger role in managing schools and will likely reconsider how long Jenkins will keep his job.
Bush's remarks, one of the few times he has publicly cast doubt on Jenkins's leadership, came amid debate in the top ranks of the city school system about a new audit. The audit, disclosed Wednesday, contends that student enrollment records for the last five years are in disarray and cannot be verified.
"As hard as we may try to make the point that things are going well, these continuing examples of mismanagement make it very difficult," Bush said in an interview. "I think it's fair for people to be exasperated about what's happening in the school system, and we have to face it."
The new audit, which the school system paid an accounting firm $100,000 to conduct, concludes that computer records of enrollment have been erased and that backup paper files are incomplete or missing. Auditors also told the board of four schools where counting "ghost students" inflated enrollment totals -- which shape the size of a school's budget and teaching staff.
Instead of ending months of controversy about the city's school enrollment, as school officials had hoped, the audit has ignited new turmoil between Jenkins and the board, which nearly fired him four months ago.
Jenkins reacted defiantly to criticism from Bush and others yesterday. He said he resents anyone questioning his competence. "People seem to want to shoot the messenger," Jenkins said. "Remember, I initiated this audit, and the problems it found go back many years. I brought them out in the sunshine."
He also said he will resist any board attempt to exert more authority over his administration. "The board has appropriate oversight now -- anything else would be meddling," Jenkins said.
Bush, one of the few Jenkins supporters left on the 11-member board, said the superintendent may now be asked to submit "management plans" regularly and meet more often with the board to discuss school operations.
"We are going to have to show more vigilant oversight," Bush said.
But he declined to say whether the new audit will prompt board members to oust Jenkins before his contract expires next June. The board has been pushing Bush to move faster in forming a search team to hire a successor to Jenkins.
In the past, Bush has been reluctant to criticize Jenkins, who has deep ties to Ward 7, which Bush represents. Jenkins grew up there, later became a principal and school administrator there, and enjoys strong support from many residents.
Other board members, however, said yesterday they were uncertain whether the system could endure many more blows to its credibility. They said the system's reputation has been diminished since it was revealed that its administrators submitted a budget request last February based in part on an overcount of 6,500 students.
"The board can't do a damn thing -- except get a new superintendent with strong management skills," said board member Eugene Kinlow (At Large). "Short of that, we could go around and stick our finger in dikes, but it's not going to solve anything."
The audit's findings also provoked criticism yesterday from officials outside the school system. William Simons, president of the Washington Teachers Union, said the audit shows that the management of city schools is inept.
"It leaves much to be desired," Simons said. "If you cannot keep accurate an enrollment count, it puts everything else under a cloud of suspicion."
Meanwhile, D.C. Council member William Lightfoot (I-At Large) said the audit, which is the second of school system enrollment that Jenkins has undertaken this year, symbolizes a deeper crisis in the school administration.
"It strikes me that we have a school bureaucracy that's out of control, with its leadership either unwilling or unable to give direction," he said.
Bush and Jenkins have disputed some of the audit, which has not yet been completed.
They said that only some of the system's computer tape has been accidentally erased, and that there are other computer records available to verify enrollment. The count determines how much money the city gives the school system each year.
The auditors, from the accounting firm of Deloitte & Touche, have declined to comment on their report. School officials said they expect to meet with the auditors next week to discuss their differences.
Jenkins also has said he believes that inadvertent computer errors caused apparent enrollment overcounts at the four schools cited by auditors. At one of the schools, Coolidge High School, a graduating class was carried on the rolls for two years. At another, Hine Junior High, a class was listed that did not exist.
Hine Principal Princess Whitfield said yesterday that if that's the case, the overcount occurred because of a computer glitch.
"There are no ghosts at Hine Junior High," Whitfield said.