WE SWITCH you now to Arlington County, where another battle-wary superintendent with an impressive record has resigned before his contract expires. The departure next March of Superintendent Larry Cuban will end years of sparring with school board members and other local politicians who have done their best to make life miserable for him.
If District residents believe that elected school boards are the problem, they should know that in Arlington, where boards are appointed, the politicking can be just as heavy. In fact, it affected Mr. Cuabn's seven-year tenure. After nine years in the District's public schools, he was appointed by a Democratic-backed school board majority; and now he is resigning before a Republican-backed school board majority decides not to reappoint him.
Mr. Cuban says he probably would have quit at the end of his current term anyway. But clearly the political atmosphere inspired him to get out sooner. His resignation letter was addressed to the very man who was at the center of a dispute five years ago that drew him into bigger political battles: O. U. Johansen, who is now chairman of the school board. At the time, Mr. Johansen was principal at Washington-Lee High School; Mr. Cuban sought to place him in an administrative job. Enter one Walter Frankland, heading a parents' group opposing the transfer. The group lost -- but Mr. Frankland, with Republican support, made the schools a political issue, won a seat on the county board, became board chairman, and last year appointed Mr. Johansen to an empty school board seat.
Arlington may survive the resignation of its superintendent with far less distress than the District, where Vincent Reed is the stable force and the school board members are running amok with individual, self-centered agendas. But Larry Cuban, too, has served a school system well, in the face of dwindling enrollments, increasing numbers of students who speak English as a second language and teacher unrest over pay and benefits. Test scores over the last seven years show progress that was not expected, given the changing nature and requirements of the student body.
But in Arlington, the District, Montgomery or any other school system, political confrontations can reach a point of no returns for the students. As Mr. Cuban has said of the board-superintendent relationship, "Whether I'm an errand boy or dominate the board is irrelevant. The larger issue is whether the board and the superintendent work together to improve the schools. What happens when they don't ruins a school system."
Does it ever.