The D.C. Council's education committee approved a proposal yesterday that would let Mayor Anthony A. Williams appoint the schools superintendent, but it stopped short of giving him the power to appoint school board members--opting instead to shrink the size of the elected panel from 11 to seven.
The bill, a compromise between supporters of Williams's push to appoint the school board and those adamant that the panel remain elected, would limit the board's role to setting policy and approving the mayor's hiring or firing of the superintendent. It also calls for the political wards to be paired into four "special school districts," with one representative elected from each. Two school board members and a board president would be elected at-large. The school board would lay out education goals with the superintendent in a memorandum of understanding every two years.
If passed by the full council, which will take a preliminary vote Tuesday, the bill would dramatically change the way schools are governed by closely tying the superintendent--and day-to-day school operations--to the mayor.
Until the D.C. financial control board seized school powers three years ago, the mayor and council controlled school funding and the school board hired the superintendent. This arrangement, according to Education Committee Chairman Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7), made it easy for one group to blame the other for problems in the long-struggling system.
"Now we are all going to be involved in educating our children," Chavous said, "and taking the heat if we don't do it."
The control board's schools supervision is scheduled to end this summer.
Williams said he will keep lobbying for an appointed board. He spent the week meeting with parent groups, council members and religious leaders and will brief Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners today. The council is expected to take a final vote on the bill Feb. 1.
"I do not feel [the committee's] legislation goes far enough to create the accountability our education system needs," Williams said in a statement. "Our schools need dramatic reform. We owe our students nothing less."
Aides to Williams said an appointed board would enable the mayor to choose people with expertise in education, finance or other critical areas.
Williams's plan mirrors mayoral takeovers in several other cities, but the combination of an appointed superintendent and an elected school board would be unique in the country--reflective, Chavous said, of D.C.'s long and only partly successful struggle for elected representation.
Committee member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), the lone opposition in the 3 to 1 vote on the compromise, said it doesn't solve the problem of having so many entities involved in governing schools. "You continue to have a split responsibility," she said.
Schools activists who oppose making major changes to the elected board said the bill is an attempt by the council to avoid being labeled "anti-democracy."
"It allows them to say that they've maintained an elected board, but it's a toothless tiger," said Larry Gray, legislative director of the citywide council of PTAs.
But Delabian Rice-Thurston, executive director of the advocacy group Parents United for D.C. Public Schools, said the bill "has promise," as long the final provisions don't prove too unwieldy.
The mayor's proposal, endorsed by the Board of Trade, the Chamber of Commerce and The Washington Post editorial board, was panned in several community newspapers, and most council members are convinced their constituents oppose giving up an elected board.
Of the 13-member council, only Patterson and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) favor an appointed board. Chavous, Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) and David Catania (R-At Large) are adamant that the board be elected. Council member Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6), who has proposed a board with both elected and appointed members, said she is committed to having some elected representation.
CAPTION: Kevin P. Chavous is one of the council members who believe the school board must remain elected.