The D.C. Board of Education, split by a nasty leadership battle, appeared yesterday to be on the verge of a resolution that most members can support. The fragile detente was spurred by warnings from D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) that the school board faced being abolished if peace is not restored.
Chavous and six members of the elected school board held a news conference to announce some details of a compromise they said could end the feuding that erupted publicly last month when the panel voted 6 to 5 to remove Wilma R. Harvey (Ward 1) as president. Although five members stayed away, calling any announcement premature, several from that group said they believe an agreement is near.
"I'm somewhat hopeful, because we want to be able to move the process along," said Tonya Vidal Kinlow (At Large), part of the board's anti-Harvey faction.
Under the emerging compromise, Harvey would be reinstated as president, but a newly formed panel of six to eight board members would oversee her actions. Board members said they are still negotiating over the composition and duties of the oversight group and a likely change in the board's cumbersome committee system.
The framework for an agreement emerged Wednesday night when Chavous met with members of the board, which was stripped of its power to run the troubled school system in 1996 by the appointed D.C. financial control board. It is set to get back its powers in June 2000 -- if the control board thinks the panel is ready.
Chavous, who is mediating the dispute in his role as chairman of the council's education committee, bluntly told school board members, according to some, that continued feuding could harm the panel's return to power and spark a move to abolish it.
Yesterday, Chavous said he hoped the board had learned a lesson.
"What the board does, how it acts, will have an impact on its shape and future," he said.
The vote to oust Harvey came as a majority of board members accused her of a variety of improprieties, including using a staff employee to make personal travel arrangements and failing to communicate with other members. Panel members, for example, complained that they didn't find out that Harvey and the control board were negotiating a transition plan -- until the plan was announced in February.
Harvey said the board had illegally removed her, and she threatened to sue. Veleter Mazyck, general counsel to Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, had earlier advised the board majority that Harvey was entitled to a fair hearing. Interim D.C. Corporation Counsel Robert Rigsby later wrote an informal opinion saying Harvey may have been entitled to more due process.
A break in the stalemate came Wednesday when board member Robert G. Childs (At Large) agreed, essentially, to switch sides. He moved from the majority that had ousted Harvey and became part of a new majority with members who supported Harvey -- on condition that her actions would be watched.
"For me, the biggest issue was inclusivity, and we have solved that problem," Childs said. "Now we have to move forward, and we will."
Not all members, however, accept the plan. Don Reeves (Ward 3) yesterday spurned the suggested agreement and said he doubts any board majority will remain intact.
"We had a team for getting [Harvey] out of the president's spot, but we're not joined at the hip on any of the other issues," he said.
Childs agreed that the compromise is fragile. And some board members quietly wondered whether it will fly.
"Why would the public have confidence in us if we are putting a president in there who we clearly don't trust?" one member said.