THE REPORT released yesterday by the D.C. Appleseed Center on reforming the D.C. Board of Education is likely to set off a long-overdue examination of public school governance. A hard look should be welcomed. School deficiencies and board shortcomings go hand in hand.
To understand why a public interest group such as Appleseed believes the time has come to weigh the method of choosing the Board of Education, look no farther than the recent go- around with board president Wilma Harvey. Fresh on the heels of a clumsy and unsuccessful attempt by a board majority to remove her as president for alleged leadership deficiencies and abuses of office, Ms. Harvey had the unmitigated gall to ask the superintendent to provide her with a car and driver so she can visit schools in her ward. Hers is the latest in a long line of foolish board deeds that is now sounding the panel's death knell.
Studying the board, Appleseed researchers noted that current members can't get along well together, can't stick to their primary task of setting policy goals, and communicate poorly with the public. No surprises there. The report's conclusions were more to the point: "It will not suffice merely to tinker with the current system by . . . eliminating Board committees or changing Board members' salaries. Nor will exhortation to behave differently bring about the necessary reforms." Nothing short of changing the way the board is chosen will do, states the report.
While not coming down on either side of the elected vs. appointed board question, the report argues forcefully for reducing the board from its current 11 members "to nine or fewer," who could be elected, appointed or made into a hybrid. If the elected system remains, Appleseed proposes to shake the parochialism of ward-based members by requiring them to win citywide. If the appointive route is chosen, the mayor would make the selection from a list provided by a commission, with appointments approved by the council.
The Appleseed report is only a starting point. Council member Kevin Chavous's education committee will hold public hearings beginning Oct. 16 on the full dimensions of school governance. At that time residents and interested groups should make their views known. This much is already clear: The board as currently constituted is not the answer to what ails the schools.