The head of the D.C. Council's education committee said yesterday that he expects the structure of the D.C. Board of Education will be altered before the panel, still struggling to resolve a bruising leadership fight, regains its authority to oversee the city's public school system.
"Absolutely, the current governance of the school district will change," said Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7), who has been mediating the school board dispute. "The board and its powers will change. How much of it will remain intact depends largely on what they do between now and the end of the year."
Chavous said he is considering a range of changes in how the board operates, including whether the members should be appointed rather than elected, and if they are elected, whether most should continue to be elected by wards. He said he also is weighing whether to reduce the size of the 11-member board and whether to make other changes in the governance of the school system, including adopting an oversight mechanism that is more in line with what other local school districts have.
It is unclear whether the D.C. financial control board will go along with Chavous, and nothing can be done without its approval. Control board Vice Chairman Constance B. Newman, who handles education issues for the panel, did not return several telephone calls in recent days seeking comment on the school board's future and any restructuring efforts.
One control board source said Newman likely would be wary of any changes that violate the tenets of home rule for the District. But local education activists say that if the restructuring was spearheaded by Chavous and other city officials, the control board probably would not interfere.
At a meeting with the school board Monday, Newman, according to members, told the panel that she is staying out of the leadership battle and leaving it to Chavous as a locally elected official to help resolve the dispute.
The control board in 1996 stripped the much-criticized school board of its powers to oversee the troubled school system. The board is supposed to have its management authority over schools restored by next June, but there is concern that little has improved since the control board's initial action.
"We need to look at overall school governance and make changes," said Chavous, who will hold a hearing on the issue in late September. By that time, the nonprofit D.C. Appleseed Center is expected to release a report on school governance that activists hope will fuel a citywide discussion.
Yesterday, school board members continued to negotiate a resolution to the leadership fight, which began last month when a majority of the panel voted to oust Wilma R. Harvey (Ward 1) as president.
Chavous said at a news conference last week that an agreement had been reached to reinstate Harvey--with more oversight of her actions. But his announcement proved premature as board members continued to bicker about the composition and responsibilities of a new executive committee that is to exercise the oversight.
"By now it looks pretty bad," said Mary Levy, counsel to the education advocacy group Parents United. "They are going through a slow form of torture for themselves and certainly for all the people who care about having an elected board."
In ousting Harvey, the board majority accused her of several improprieties, including failing to discuss important board work with other members and failing to properly represent the panel before Congress. But school district and city lawyers question whether Harvey was accorded due process, and the D.C. corporation counsel is expected to issue a formal opinion by Friday on the legality of her ouster.
As the school board tried to get its act together, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman opened a three-day leadership institute yesterday for principals, teachers and others--calling on everyone in the school community to work harder to improve student performance.
"Even though we have come a long way, we have a long way to go," she said.
Ackerman said the school system still needs to hire about 75 teachers, mostly for special education, math and science, before school starts Aug. 30.
Last night, Ackerman gave the D.C. Emergency Transitional Education Board of Trustees--a panel that advises the control board on the public schools--a list of newly appointed principals for next year. Twenty-eight schools will have new principals, although three of them still have not been selected.
CAPTION: Superintendent Arlene Ackerman participates in a leadership institute for principals, teachers and others. "Even though we have come a long way, we have a long way to go," she said.