THIS WEEK a group of education activists sent a letter to Washington's mayor, council and school board that points to a way out of the current school governance morass. If city and school officials are in fact concerned about bringing stability to the school system and at long last attracting a first-rate superintendent, they should heed the message.
It's not every day that organizations such as Parents United for the D.C. Public Schools, D.C. Congress of PTAs, the 21st Century School Fund, Campaign for the D.C. School Budget and the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators come together on a single issue. The school governance crisis, however, has brought them to the point where they have unanimously urged that the issue be settled immediately. They correctly note that the protracted time spent fighting over control of the schools has compromised the search for a superintendent and added to the instability afflicting the schools. "It is crucial," they wrote, "that we be able to have a permanent leader in place to begin planning for the coming year."
Their proposed solution is to continue the hybrid school board for the next four years. They acknowledge that their proposed extension of the hybrid board is a difficult position given their own preference for an all-elected school board. We, too, have expressed a preference for an alternate governance arrangement. But we agree with Parents United et al. that the current uncertainty and instability are severe impediments to the superintendent search and are made only worse by Mayor Anthony A. Williams's ever-changing governance plans. The council, as the education groups observed, has twice rejected the mayor's plans to take over the schools. His latest proposal to create an eight-member state board of education with $30,000 annual salaries, or double the pay now earned by school board members, is or ought to be a non-starter. This latest mayoral scheme is designed to win votes, not to support public schools. The school governance debate needs to end, and the rebuilding of the school system must begin. That cannot occur without a capable permanent school chief in place.
No superintendent worth having will come within a mile of the District as long as the mayor, council and school board are at loggerheads over the management and operation of the schools. By now all parties should recognize that fact of life. If they really have the interest of parents, students and administrators at heart, then city and school leaders have to reach a compromise that makes the school superintendent's post a job worth having. Under current conditions, that's not the case.