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What’s going on with the D.C. mayor’s chancellor selection process?

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) prepares to snap a photo with students on International Day of the Girl in October.
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) prepares to snap a photo with students on International Day of the Girl in October. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)
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A panel advising D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) on the selection of a chancellor to lead the District’s public schools has disbanded, suggesting that the search for a new education chief may be nearing an end.

But the advisory board has not reviewed a single résumé yet. And that has riled parents and union leaders who say a city law requires the mayor to share résumés from candidates for the job leading the 49,000-student school system.

It is a case of history repeating itself: Two years ago, when Bowser selected Antwan Wilson to run the city’s schools, members of an advisory panel complained that they were shown résumés only after Wilson was chosen.

The failure to show résumés to this year’s advisory board emerged as a flash point last week during the confirmation hearing for Bowser’s top education aide, Paul Kihn.

D.C. mayor launched search for next public schools chancellor

Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) pressed Kihn, acting deputy mayor for education, on the status of the search for a chancellor and homed in on the matter of the résumés. He was told that the advisory panel had not seen those documents.

“How is that going to comport then with the legal requirements for that search process?” Allen asked.

Kihn repeatedly sought to reassure Allen.

“All I can share with you is that we are in compliance with the law,” Kihn said at the hearing.

The committee hosted community events and submitted a report to the mayor about qualities they hope to see in the next chancellor.

Susana Castillo, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said the mayor would reconnect with the committee, though she did not specify what that would entail.

“The mayor will engage with the committee again,” Castillo said.

The exchange between Kihn and Allen — and its implication that the panel was no longer operating — left some residents and at least one member of the advisory panel flummoxed.

“At this point, I am not sure that the mayor and deputy mayor for education are planning to follow what the legislation asks for,” said Elizabeth A. Davis, president of the Washington Teachers’ Union and a member of the chancellor advisory panel.

Bowser is hiring a replacement for Wilson, who resigned in February amid revelations that he bypassed the city’s placement system so his daughter could get a seat in a coveted high school. Amanda Alexander has served as interim chancellor since February and is a contender for the permanent spot.

A spokeswoman for the mayor said Bowser has interviewed a few candidates for the position and that the selection would comply with the law.

When Bowser launched the chancellor search in June, education activists held a news conference calling on the mayor to run a more transparent search this time.

Mayor Bowser alters panel that selects schools chief amid parents’ lawsuit.

“The leaders of our public schools will decide whether our families have confidence in our public schools,” Markus Batchelor, the Ward 8 representative on the D.C. State Board of Education, said at a news conference in June calling on the mayor to conduct an open search for a chancellor. “We got to get it right this time.”

But Bowser has come under fire since the beginning of her search to replace Wilson.

A group of parents sued the mayor this year, arguing that Bowser’s chancellor advisory panel did not include enough students and teachers. In response, Bowser expanded the board.

Valerie Jablow, one of the parents who sued, said she doesn’t understand why the mayor would disband the panel before providing it the résumés of candidates.

“This seems to me once again an effort to not comply with the statute requirements,” Jablow said.

Ivan Frishberg, a D.C. parent who sat on the advisory panel, said there was some confusion among the group about whether they would advise the mayor once she began looking at candidates for the chancellor’s job. But, he said, it was clear that the group’s main task was to complete a report about what the community hopes to see in its next schools leader.

“It was, however, very clear at the end when we submitted the final report that our continued role was still up to the mayor and what she needed to complete the process,” Frishberg said.