The D.C. Council's Education Committee will hold a hearing Saturday to get the public's views on possible changes in the structure of the D.C. Board of Education so that it can better govern the school system if it regains power as scheduled in June. The hearing will begin at 10 a.m. in the council chambers, at 441 Fourth St. NW.
Last week, the District Weekly asked readers to share their ideas on what should happen with the elected panel. Submissions are due by Oct. 28, must be 250 words or less and must include the writer's full name, address, political ward and phone number or e-mail address. They may be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, faxed to Debbi Wilgoren at 202-334-6138, or mailed to Debbi Wilgoren, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.
Here are some of the thoughts so far:
Denver as an Example
I was involved with the Denver school board before moving to Washington. The board has only seven members. The elections are at-large for six-year terms, unpaid. We found we got people who were very dedicated to children and education, and some who used it as a stepping stone to higher office.
School board members could not go into any school and act like it was their personal fiefdom. Board members were divided (usually 4-to-3 splits) over school busing, but they got the job done. We didn't have the rancorous goings-on that I've witnessed with the D.C. board.
Shrink the board to either 5 or 7 members, elect them at-large, and make it unpaid. Some people will complain that their part of the city might not be represented, but all I can say is that they would need to put up a credible candidate and let the voters decide.
Meyer J. Persow
Put It Out of Business
I think the school board should be abolished. We have made more progress regarding facilities, test scores and overall improvement in morale and motivation in the last two years than the last 20. The elected board argues, bickers and constantly engages in conflict rather than dialogue regarding what is best for our children.
Ms. [Arlene] Ackerman has done a yeoman's job in beginning to crack the inertia that has devastated city government in general and D.C. schools in particular. Give her three to five more years to turn this situation around.
Make the Board Strong
Undeniably, the school board is riddled with problems. However, we should not get rid of it. Suppose we abolished Congress every time we disliked their gerrymandering and flawed legislation? We need elected representation and we should keep it. Maintain, strengthen and expand the board to reflect the following:
Keep the eight ward and three at-large seats. Every ward needs an advocate and representative for its own community.
Elect the board president at-large, like the D.C. Council elects its chairperson.
Include a mayoral appointee to the board--either selected from a list of nominees and confirmed by the council, or detailed from the mayor's staff.
D.C. is unique, and we can't be expected to always follow the lead of other jurisdictions. Do not dismantle our board.
Kathryn A. Pearson-West
Remake It, Then Give Power Back
The recent misbehavior of the board shows clearly that something has to be done quickly and dramatically. Not a single member on the current board is responsible enough to be in charge of the education of D.C. children.
The board should be cut in half, with half of the remaining members elected at large and the others appointed by the mayor. This should make the board small enough to be effective, something the current board has no concept of. And it would allow the best qualified people from anywhere in the city to serve.
I hope no power is given back to the board until the structure is changed and new members elected.
Defending Elected Board The school population does not reflect the need for an 11-seat board. But the election process should continue. I want to have that right to choose. I definitely would not want a mixture of appointed and elected officials.
The superintendent position should be protected, and not be in any way under the board's realm. That position needs to fall under the mayor's office, just for stability's sake.
Debate and Get Out the Vote Suggestions:
1. No member can run for other public office while an incumbent.
2. Elect all members at large.
3. Have public debates with all candidates before elections, giving good media coverage.
It would be the responsibility of PTAs and citizen groups to get out the vote so the interests of each part of the city are represented.
Break It Into Smaller Units The elected board tops a failed educational structure. The board predates the council, and the two have never worked smoothly together. There is no way for parents and citizens to effectively participate.
Small clusters of schools should be grouped into largely self-administering districts, each with a small board elected from its area.
The superintendent should be responsible for developing a citywide budget and overall system operations. A small advisory board would participate in selection and evaluation of the superintendent and provide overall policy advice. The council would review and approve the budget and select and supervise the superintendent.
William C. Horn
Add Some New Voices
The school board must become less political. I would suggest reserving one board position for the head of a private school, who can offer wisdom and know-how from a different perspective. The board should also include some of its consumers, current parents.
Make It a Volunteer Job
As a former Washington area resident and wife of a former school board member here in Texas, let me say a few words about the problems affecting the D.C. school board.
Board members should be elected by the people they are chosen to represent. If the positions were elected at-large, an influx of wealthy or influential people might run who really don't care.
Eliminate the salaries of the board members. Raise curriculum standards. Hold the teachers and school officials responsible for student performance. Make the superintendent report to the board on a regular basis.
DeBra Delacroix Edwards
Make Board's Role Advisory
NARPAC, a nonprofit organization that proposes solutions to D.C. problems, recommends a three- to four-member executive committee appointed from a 17-person advisory school board. That board would have eight elected ward members and nine council-approved appointees, including a chairperson picked by the courts, D.C. financial control board or mayor; an official from the U.S. Department of Education; two area education officials; a local university official; and a representative from the mayor's office, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Housing and Community Development, and the police department.
NARPAC's full recommendations are available at www.NARPAC.org/INTHOCOR.HTM.
A Vote for an At-Large Board
My suggestion for changes in the school board are:
1. Seven members, overlapping terms, elected at large.
2. Reduced salaries.
3. Reduced staffs.
4. President has one-year term, not consecutive, but may serve again.
5. All meetings public.
Take a Pledge to Get Along School board members need to take a dispute-resolution pledge: to consider mediation and other such alternatives in any dispute, instead of an adversarial process. Mediation clauses could also be included in their contracts. This nonadversarial approach would save time and money.