Last week's firing of School Superintendent Andrew E. Jenkins was not without subplots. Among the most intriguing -- and most relevant to educators and parents -- is the resurrection of school board member R. David Hall.
Hall, who represents Ward 2, led the board's drive to oust Jenkins by rounding up seven other votes and prepping those board members to ignore the taunts of protesters trying to block the move. And now he has secured the votes to become the board's next president, a job that offers great authority over the city's 175 schools.
Hall's political coup has left heads turning inside the school system, because most officials had figured he had set his sights on the Ward 2 D.C. Council seat being vacated by the newly elected council chairman, John A. Wilson.
It also has left board President Nate Bush (Ward 7), whom the 11-member board appointed this past January, with no choice but to relinquish his position. Bush, a board member since 1980, who had coveted the board presidency for several years, said this week he has removed his name from the race.
"A board majority is now solidly behind David," one board member said last week. "There were some doubts about him becoming president, but he took care of that last week by leading the vote against Jenkins."
It's a striking shift in power, for the board has rarely changed leaders so quickly. That prompts two questions: Why not Bush? And why Hall?
For months, Bush has been in trouble with several board members. After the board voted last summer not to renew Jenkins's contract, it became Bush's job to initiate a search for a successor. In some members' minds, Bush dragged his feet and kept details of his plans too close to the vest.
Bush rejects those criticisms, arguing that he has steered the system through one of its most turbulent years. Along with the constant distraction of resolving Jenkins's fate, Bush had to contend with an embarrassing enrollment crisis that is not yet settled. And he had to keep independent-minded members such as Hall and R. Calvin Lockridge (Ward 8) in check.
Come January, it will all be Hall's job. Bush wants to remain chairman of the search for Jenkins's successor, but Hall will have the task of setting the board's agenda, defining relations with the next superintendent, and restoring the faith of the city's business and political establishment in D.C. schools.
Hall was the board's president for much of Floretta D. McKenzie's tenure as superintendent, but for three years he has been quiet. In that time, some members have derided him as a maverick who relished cutting his own deals, then bullying the rest of the board to support them.
But now members say Hall, who apparently has told them he will not run for the council, is ready to seek consensus before charging into new projects. And they were impressed with his tough public stand against Jenkins last week.
As the board's next president, Hall would benefit from the absence of his longtime nemesis, Lockridge, who is leaving his Ward 8 seat after 12 years. Lockridge has been the most combative official in the school system for years.
But the bad news for Hall is that Lockridge may have passed that title to another of his enemies: Andrew E. Jenkins.
Although the board fired Jenkins, he has tenure in the school system. And he has not shown any interest in leaving before he reaches retirement age in two years. That means the board or next superintendent likely will have no choice but to give Jenkins an administrative job and hope he and his allies do not cause trouble.
But before he was fired Friday, Jenkins publicly denounced Hall, accused him of concealing accurate enrollment figures and suggested that he had swindled the school system by steering a lucrative asbestos-removal deal to his friends. As Hall began to deny the accusations, a few protesters began throwing debris at the board and the meeting erupted in chaos.
In the never-tranquil world of the city's school system, do not expect either man to leave his anger with the other there. The Search Speeds Up
Amid all the sound and fury over Jenkins, the board is quietly proceeding with its search for his successor.
Members are negotiating with several search firms to look nationally for candidates and say they expect to strike a deal with one firm in the next week.
If all goes well, the board expects to have a list of finalists by late January, and a choice by March. A favorite for the job has yet to emerge, but board members continue to say that no one now working inside the school system should even apply.