THE ARCHITECTS of that eleventh-hour extralegal D.C. school governance structure laughably misnamed "the collaborative" fooled no one but themselves. They thought that if they smeared a little cosmetics over the messy governance structure now in place, candidates for school superintendent wouldn't notice the job's inherent conflicting lines of accountability. Today's superintendent must answer, by our count, to 22 elected and appointed officials, and that's not counting the mayor, his staff and members of Congress.

Now the folks who came up with this jury-rigged system of select school board and city officials should know their scheme didn't work. Rudolph F. Crew, their leading candidate, took a look at the current school governance arrangement and said "no thanks."

"It's a distraction and a chief impediment to change," Mr. Crew told The Post's Justin Blum. "Failure to resolve it," Mr. Crew said, "means any candidate worth their salt is going to look askance." He added that the "collaborative" did not resolve the problem.

If that wasn't enough, Mr. Crew's view has been echoed by two of the three remaining candidates, Carl Cohn, a former superintendent in Long Beach, Calif., and Stephen Jones, superintendent in Syracuse, N.Y. The third, former airline executive Candy Lee, didn't return a reporter's call, which may tell you something.

Mr. Cohn flat-out said the District is not for him if the plan adopted this week by the D.C. Council prevails. That scheme calls for continuation of the current hybrid elected-appointed board through 2006, after which it would become an all-elected body. Mr. Cohn wants the same governance structure around for at least four to six years. He told The Post: "I sent a real clear message about the importance of them nailing down this governance structure. I think they need to keep working on it."

Mr. Jones told his hometown newspaper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, that the D.C. school system has "serious issues with governance that I'm not sure anyone would want to address."

Could it be any clearer than that? The current system for overseeing the D.C. superintendent is a major obstacle to attracting the kind of high-quality candidate that the District needs.

The task now is to get the school board president, the mayor and the D.C. Council's status quo majority to fully appreciate the crisis they are causing in school leadership. The city's 64,200-student system has been without a permanent superintendent since November. Schools close next month and will reopen two months later. Still, no superintendent is in sight. Superficial organizational changes and promises of cooperation from city leaders won't alter the reality that confronts worthwhile candidates. Supervision by Board of Education President Peggy Cooper Cafritz and her eight colleagues, Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D), member Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) and their 11 colleagues, and the mayor and his staff come with the territory. What candidate in his or her right mind would want that?