FOR YET ANOTHER example of why quality D.C. school superintendent candidates might shy away from the District, look no farther than the special $13 million D.C. school appropriation that has been taken hostage by Congress. If ever there was an example of the current school governance morass, this is it.
To explain: In January, Congress and President Bush approved $13 million for D.C. public schools and another $13 million for D.C. public charter schools as conditions for the city's support of a separate $13 million taxpayer-funded school voucher program to send children to private schools. In response to a request from Gregory M. McCarthy, Mayor Anthony A. Williams's deputy chief of staff and chief liaison to Congress, the school system prepared in March a one-page summary of its spending plans, which the mayor's office conveyed to Congress. But last week, Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) announced that Congress would withhold the money to the public schools until a new superintendent is named because the school system failed to submit an acceptable plan. Interim superintendent Robert C. Rice told The Post this week that the school system was never told about any congressional dissatisfaction with the school system's submission.
Mr. Rice is dismayed because he said the schools did develop a more extensive PowerPoint presentation that was shared at a May 11 meeting arranged by Mr. McCarthy with about 20 congressional staffers. Mr. Rice now charges that the mayor's office, through Mr. McCarthy, privately lobbied the Hill to spend some of the $13 million in other ways. Mr. McCarthy denies the charge and says he has been working only as a communications link between congressional aides and the schools. Would that that were all.
D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) -- who supports the mayor's takeover of public schools -- has been pushing hard for funding of a technical high school within his ward. His chief of staff, Estell Lloyd, told us that Mr. McCarthy arranged for two congressional staffers and Mr. Orange to tour the proposed McKinley High School site two weeks ago. Now there is a strong push on Capitol Hill to divert a portion of the $13 million from the superintendent's plan to Mr. Orange's initiative -- an undertaking that is at odds with the educational priorities adopted by the Board of Education earlier in the year. Alleging a campaign of disinformation by Mr. McCarthy to discredit school officials, Mr. Rice said, "It's the mayor's office in its attempt to seize control and direction of the schools."
The back-and-forth between the mayor's office and the school system would be a sideshow if the charges of sabotage weren't so serious. Equally worrisome is a report that Congress may establish an Aug. 17 deadline for the city to select a superintendent and that a missed deadline will prompt federal legislators to write their own plan for spending the $13 million in the D.C. public schools. That would be as outrageous as the school governance stalemate now crippling D.C. public education. Where are the grown-ups?