CITY LAWMAKERS are slated to meet on Sunday in a closed-door strategy session to discuss how to define new roles and responsibilities for the school board, superintendent and mayor--three offices included in the elected board preservation bill that the council preliminarily approved this week. The unusual Sunday session, which is preparatory to the council's meeting on Tuesday with Mayor Williams, may afford members a wonderful chance to bond over the weekend. Not much else of value is expected insofar as schools are concerned. The elected board preservation plan, which is the brainchild of education committee chairman Kevin Chavous (D-Ward 7), is a pernicious bill. It spells bad news for public education and deserves to be vetoed by the mayor.
The Chavous plan does all the wrong things. It continues an elected panel that has wreaked havoc on the school system for more than 25 years. It pits the school board and mayor against each other. It diffuses power and accountability, institutionalizes chaos and makes a strong case for public charter schools and educational vouchers.
The mayor's plan, which unfortunately drew support only from council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), offers the best approach to the governance of a troubled school system. At the same time, it respects the electoral process. The Williams plan allows an elected mayor to nominate the superintendent and a five-member board of education, with the school chief and board subject to confirmation by an elected council. Unlike the murky and mischievous Chavous plan, the mayor's proposal responds to demands for both democracy and accountability. It ensures that voters will know who's in charge--and who should be held responsible for public school performance.
Even though Mr. Chavous is confident the council will override a mayoral veto, Mayor Williams should reject their bill. Most education advocates on both sides of the issue agree that the Chavous bill makes the school governance situation worse. In that respect, it is unlikely that the financial control board, which seized school powers three years ago and which has final say on all city legislation, would endorse the council's action.
That leaves the council back at the starting line. Control board chairwoman Alice Rivlin told Congress yesterday that her panel was prepared to delay transfer of power to the elected board until the end of this year if asked by city officials. The request should be submitted. The council, as much as the mayor, has an obligation to produce a plan that ends the factionalism and in-fighting that have damaged the school system for decades. That has not happened under Mr. Chavous. It's time for more education-oriented and less politically motivated council members to step forward and work with the mayor on finding a sensible and constructive solution.