After days of stormy, seesaw negotiations, the two warring factions on the D.C. Board of Education resolved their leadership struggle late yesterday by agreeing to a compromise that leaves Wilma R. Harvey (Ward 1) as president but sets up an executive committee to oversee the panel's operations, school board members said.
The agreement coincided with an opinion issued yesterday by Robert Rigsby, interim D.C. corporation counsel, who said the board's 6 to 5 vote last month to oust Harvey had "no legal effect" because the panel did not accord her due process--and took the vote against legal advice.
And, because Harvey never really lost her job, the board apparently has decided there is no need to hold a formal meeting to reinstate her. Instead, those brokering the compromise are circulating the agreement for members to sign.
"We have to put this behind us," Harvey said yesterday, "and do what we were elected to do."
Board members, including Harvey and Westy Byrd (Ward 2), a leader of the anti-Harvey faction, began signing the document late yesterday.
The agreement came at the end of a long week filled with tedious talks, sometimes about a single word in the compromise. Byrd also asked the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance to close an investigation she had requested into an allegation that Harvey asked a public employee to help her make private travel plans, an accusation Harvey denied.
Members said they hoped for peace on the embattled board, which lost power to oversee the school system in 1996 and is supposed to resume that authority by June 2000. The bitter public dispute, however, has fueled discussion about changing the school system's governing structure.
Under the compromise, a five-member executive committee will be formed to run the board. "All official decisions must be discussed and decided" by this committee before they are taken to the full board, according to the compromise agreement. Correspondence must be signed by the president but also initialed by at least two executive committee members.
That committee will include the president, vice president and three other members who have yet to be named.
Twice in the negotiations, mediator D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) had announced a deal. But each time, somebody balked.
Board members earlier had said an official meeting would be required to reinstate Harvey, but Robert G. Childs (At-Large), the chief negotiator of the compromise, said yesterday that a majority of signatures would have the same effect.
Childs said he believed the dispute and subsequent mediation "was good for us. . . . I think some of the ties are stronger, and people are beginning to bond, something we needed to do."
CAPTION: President Wilma Harvey wants the board to move past its conflicts.