ANY NUMBER of reasons may have prompted former New York City School Chancellor Rudolph F. Crew to turn his back on the District and accept the top schools job in Miami-Dade County. It certainly wasn't because the city didn't want him. Just about every D.C. official involved in the superintendent search had agreed that Mr. Crew was the leading candidate to run the city's schools. The mayor was prepared to get into a bidding war with Miami and had even suggested a first-year compensation package of $600,000. But somewhere between the time a school board official and a headhunter phoned Mr. Crew a month ago, and Monday morning, when he abruptly signed on the dotted line in Miami, something went off track. Early signs suggest that the derailment was caused by factors peculiar to the District of Columbia.
Without any change in the law, the city's new school chief must report to the school board's president, Peggy Cooper Cafritz, and her eight elected and appointed colleagues; to Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7), chairman of the D.C. Council education committee, D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) and their 11 colleagues; to Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and his staff; and to four separate committees of Congress. During his brief visit to the city, Mr. Crew had an opportunity to meet and assess most of those in the District school and political hierarchy with whom he would have to work. That experience alone might have been enough to discourage an administrator who prefers to have one boss. Add to that the uncertainty of knowing where accountability for D.C. public education rests, and it is understandable if the city's first choice decided to move the city to second place on his list.
District lawmakers hardly made the city a more attractive place for a superintendent with yesterday's vote to keep the school system under the school board. Despite their brave public front, even some council members question the board's leadership and oversight of the management-challenged system. But Mr. Chavous, successfully arguing in favor of the impugned status quo, told his council colleagues that the hiring of a quality superintendent -- and not changing oversight -- improves a school system. Without intending it, Mr. Chavous made the case for abolishing both his education committee and the school board, given the school system's crumbling buildings, low test scores and mismanagement under their oversight. But instead of acknowledging their ineffectualness, the council and school board have locked in their institutional holds on the schools and blocked the mayor from taking control of the system, thus adding to the unattractiveness of the school superintendent's post. Any wonder Mr. Crew's not around?