The District's school board should be smaller and members should be selected differently if the board is to govern effectively, according to a group that has studied the school system for more than a year.
The report released yesterday by the nonprofit D.C. Appleseed Center is intended to spark a citywide debate about reforming the D.C. Board of Education before it regains power over public schools June 30.
Kevin P. Chavous, chairman of the D.C. Council's education committee, yesterday called the report a "guide" for an Oct. 16 public hearing he has scheduled on school governance. He said his committee will propose legislation by year's end to alter the structure of the school board.
"Change is going to be substantive; it's going to be radical," said Chavous (D-Ward 7).
The D.C. financial control board seized power from the elected school board nearly three years ago, saying the school system was failing city children and needed an emergency overhaul.
The control board has not required structural changes in the 11-member board. But continued missteps by the panel--from political infighting to mismanagement of public charter schools--have created widespread interest in reforming it.
The report's suggestions would require amending the D.C. Home Rule Charter, a lengthy process that likely would prevent a new board from being elected or appointed before June 30.
If the public supports changing the board structure, the control board could extend its rule over the schools until reform was complete, or the reform effort could take place after the existing board resumes power.
The Appleseed report recommends shrinking the board and points out that most urban school boards have seven or fewer members.
"Smaller boards work better as a unit. Our Board of Education needs to work better as a unit," Appleseed Executive Director Joshua S. Wyner said.
The report faults the current process of electing a representative from each ward and three at-large members, saying that it fosters factionalism and meddling by board members in individual schools. It suggests several options for choosing members, including mayoral appointments, elections or a combination.
If members are to be elected, the report recommends a hybrid approach like that used in Seattle and San Diego. The city would be divided into geographic areas, with two candidates nominated from each area in a primary election. Those nominees then would run in a citywide election, with the top vote-getter from each geographic area landing a seat on the board.
That approach would ensure representation from all parts of the city, while requiring candidates to win votes across the city and face broader scrutiny from the electorate.
Such changes in the charter would require either D.C. Council legislation ratified in a citywide vote--which then could be blocked by Congress--or congressional legislation. The latter option, while somewhat simpler, could be politically unpopular here because it does not involve D.C. residents or elected officials.
Copies of the report can be obtained by calling D.C. Appleseed at 202-393-1158 or visiting its Web site, www.appleseeds.net/dc.
Although all board members were invited to speak with Appleseed before the report was published, only two--President Wilma R. Harvey (Ward 1) and member Westy Byrd (Ward 2)--chose to do so. Six board members attended a briefing on the report Tuesday night.
Harvey said the report "sets the foundation for public debate and discussion." She said she would oppose any move toward an appointed board.
The report also recommends:
* Clarifying the division of responsibilities between the board and Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, to decrease micromanaging and bickering. The board has been reviewing those roles as part of its control board-mandated transition back into power, with mixed results.
* Stripping several responsibilities normally performed by states--such as counting students, distributing federal grants and accrediting teacher training programs--from the school system. Chavous has similarly proposed setting up an independent education office to perform such functions; Ackerman has privately expressed concern about giving too much power to such an office.
Wyner said Ackerman, who has voiced reservations about having to report to the existing board, has been given a copy of the report but has been unavailable for a briefing. Her spokeswoman did not return a request for comment yesterday.