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A profile of schools chief Julius W. Becton Jr. explains how he'd like to restructure the schools.

A Post magazine story details Becton's first few months on the job.

Find out more about the crisis in the D.C. Schools.

Go to Control Board Resource Page

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D.C. Control Board Takes Charge of Public Schools

By David A. Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 16, 1996; Page A01

The D.C. financial control board threw out the leadership of the D.C. public schools yesterday and put a retired Army general and a new board of trustees in charge, declaring that a "state of emergency" in the city's public schools requires drastic and immediate action.

Displaying its vast powers, the control board fired Superintendent Franklin L. Smith, hired retired Lt. Gen. Julius W. Becton Jr. to replace him and transferred the authority of the elected school board to a new board of trustees headed by Bruce K. MacLaury, former president of the Brookings Institution. To cut through the bureaucracy, the control board exempted Becton from District contracting and personnel rules and directed him to establish new procedures for hiring and firing school system employees.

The board took its forceful actions during an efficient one-hour meeting at Luther Place Memorial Church, a short walk from the board's offices at Thomas Circle NW. With a giant pipe organ behind them, stained glass windows around them and a cheering crowd before them, the five board members voted unanimously to enact the biggest changes in the structure of the District government since the board itself was created by Congress last year.

"We are convinced that the time for change has come -- that every day we delay action is another day that children's futures are delayed," control board Chairman Andrew F. Brimmer said. "This is the most important action that the [board] has taken since its members were appointed by the president."

The control board voted for the leadership shake-up three days after issuing a blistering report that blamed Smith and the D.C. school board for failing to provide the approximately 80,000 students in the D.C. public schools with a decent education. The report said the control board would no longer tolerate hefty spending on administrators, declining student performance and decaying school buildings with broken toilets and leaky roofs.

"This school system has allowed and fostered educational child abuse," control board Vice Chairman Stephen D. Harlan said. "These conditions are intolerable and must be fixed."

Congress established the control board last year to rescue the District government from financial ruin and improve city services, including education. The new board of trustees is slated to oversee the school system until June 2000, when the elected school board will reassume its duties.

During the control board meeting yesterday, a line of police officers stood in the back of the church to maintain order. But the session, attended by more than 200 people, was striking for its lack of dissent. The few hecklers who shouted their opposition to the demotion of the elected school board were drowned out by waves of applause for the control board's actions.

While the new education board of trustees was being introduced at the church, nine D.C. school board members were across town in court, trying unsuccessfully to block the control board's takeover plan on legal and constitutional grounds. U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler refused to grant a temporary restraining order, saying the school board failed to show that the control board had broken the law.

"Congress made the legislative decision to give substantial powers to the control board to take action in the education field that . . . would ultimately benefit the interests of the children of the District of Columbia," the judge said.

D.C. school board President Karen Shook (At Large) said in a television interview yesterday that the legal challenge was filed because the control board's action threatens self-government. "This isn't about Shook and the school board," she said. "This is about the voters."

At the church, Tonya Vidal Kinlow, an incoming at-large school board member elected last week, expressed outrage over the board's sudden loss of power. "This is disenfranchisement," she said. "We are the link to the community." Having watched the meeting from the back of the church, she left wondering: "Now what is our role? I have no idea, honestly."

Kinlow accused control board members of pretending to be open-minded during a discussion Thursday with school board members. "They lied to us," she said. "They told us . . . that no decisions had been made, that there was still time for input, but you see here today that all the decisions were made. . . . Everything was already printed up."

But four other school board members, including newly elected members Don Reeves, of Ward 3, and Robert G. Childs, who won an at-large seat, said they support the control board and opposed the legal action. Reeves said the incoming school board members lack sufficient clout to bring about the necessary changes. And as a parent with a child in D.C. public schools, Reeves said he favors a tough stance.

"We stand shoulder to shoulder with each other and members of the control board," he said. "I'm willing to give them a chance."

MacLaury, acknowledging that members of the board of trustees lack substantial education experience, said they were picked because of their expertise in management. He promised to hold Becton and the school system, which spends nearly $600 million annually, accountable for improved results.

"I don't think we are stepping on the toes of democracy," MacLaury said. "This is an emergency."

D.C. Council member Hilda H.M. Mason (Statehood-At Large), chairman of the council's education committee, angrily disagreed. "They're taking away home rule, and it makes me blue and brown," she said. But D.C. Council Chairman David A. Clarke (D-At Large) said the school system was such a mess that strong action was needed.

Control board member Joyce A. Ladner said the dire condition of the schools makes them seem like they are in a "Third World country where there is little or no money available for education." Ladner, who headed the control board's education overhaul, then directed her most passionate remarks to students in the District's schools.

"Today we pledge to restore hope in our children -- from McKinley to Murch, from H.D. Cooke to Anacostia High . . . everywhere in Wards 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8," she said. "As students, you need to know that the stakeholders have allowed this educational system to slip away. We are driving a stake in the ground today that will benefit each and every one of you over the long term."

Smith, whose contract is being bought out by the control board, spent yesterday cleaning out his office to make way for the new regime. After nearly five years running the school system, he said during a news conference that it was time for him to leave because people have lost faith in him.

He also predicted that under Becton and the new board, the school system will receive more funding. "They will not be treated the way Franklin Smith was treated," he said. "And so this community stands to gain a lot with the new leadership."

The bespectacled Becton said his first priority will be to ensure the safety of District students, who have been threatened by continued violence on school grounds. He also promised that teachers will get the materials and tools they need to do their jobs.

MacLaury said Becton, who will have the title of chief executive officer-superintendent, already has devised an ambitious agenda for his first 100 days, with specific goals and targets to be met. Becton, 70, said he hopes to recruit a chief educational officer from within the school system to advise him on academic matters. He also pledged to brief the public and all school system employees on more specific plans next week.

Unlike the other members of the new board of trustees, Becton lives in the Virginia suburbs, not the District. But the youthful-looking father of five, who has 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, said his children attended D.C. public schools when he lived in the city years ago.

In response to questions after the meeting, Becton, a veteran of three wars, displayed the determination of a general and responded with a can-do attitude.

"We will fix it," he said of the school system, "and once we get it fixed, we will return it to the proper authorities."

Staff writers Paul Duggan, Marc Fisher, Toni Locy and Yolanda Woodlee contributed to this report.


The D.C. Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority, better known as the financial control board, has set up a new, temporary management structure to oversee the operation of the city's public schools. A newly appointed D.C. Emergency Transitional Education Board of Trustees has sweeping powers to overhaul the school system and redirect its resources. A chief executive officer assumes the duties of the school superintendent and will report to the new trustees. The elected D.C. Board of Education will serve in an advisory capacity. It will resume its management of the school system after June 30, 2000, when the powers of the board of trustees expire.

Members of the D.C. Education Board of Trustees


Bruce K. MacLaury,

president emeritus, the Brookings Institution. He holds a doctorate in economics from Harvard University and lives in the District.

Chief Executive Officer/Superintendent of Schools Julius W. Becton Jr.,

retired lieutenant general in the U.S. Army and former president of Prairie View A&M University. He lives in Springfield.

Maudine R. Cooper,

president and chief executive of the Greater Washington Urban League and former director of the D.C. Office of Human Rights. A District resident, she is a former chief of staff for Mayor Marion Barry.

Peter A. Gallagher,

president of Gallagher and Associates, a management consulting firm, and former AT&T executive and ex-president of Source One Financial Services. He lives in the District.

M. Charito Kruvant,

president of Creative Associates International, Inc., a human resources and information management firm. A native of Bolivia and longtime District resident, she helped develop bilingual education programs in the Washington area and New York.

Elliott S. Hall,

vice president, Washington affairs, for the Ford Motor Co. A member of the board of directors for both the D.C. Committee on Public Education and the Federal City Council, he lives in the District.

Karen H. Shook,

President of the D.C. Board of Education and former chairman of the National School Boards Association's Council of Urban Boards of Education. She is leaving the school board in January, and her successor as school board president will then serve on the board of trustees.

In addition, the D.C. financial control board soon will name two other trustees -- a D.C. schoolteacher and a parent who has children in the D.C. schools. The mayor will nominate three candidates for the parent slot on the board and the D.C. Council will nominate three candidates for the teacher slot, but the control board will make the final selections.

The board of trustees is under orders from the D.C. financial control board to:

Increase the quality of educational services in D.C. public schools.

Ensure academic improvement by establishing a strong school improvement and recognition process.

Streamline and strengthen management of the schools, including developing a school-based budgeting process that will refocus resources on student achievement.

Reduce the cost of noneducational services and implement cost-saving measures, including the privatization of services where deemed appropriate.

Develop a long-term financial plan that, to the maximum extent possible, reflects a balanced budget for each year.

Develop a long-term reform plan for the city's schools.

Develop programs that ensure that by completion of the eighth grade, every student achieves basic literacy skills and possesses the knowledge necessary to think critically and communicate effectively.

Lower the dropout rate.

Develop District-wide assessments, including individual assessments, that identify D.C. public school students who lack basic literary skills, with particular attention to fourth grade and middle school students. Establish procedures to ensure that a teacher is made accountable for the performance of such students in that teacher's class.

Make recommendations to improve community, parent and business involvement in the schools and charter schools.

Make recommendations on how to increase individual student involvement in the arts or athletics.

Establish procedures that ensure that every student is given the skills necessary to find employment.

Enact policies and procedures that ensure the school system operates in an ethical and efficient manner.

Takeovers elsewhere:

The D.C. public school system is not the first to face educational and operational problems.

In recent years, New Jersey's state education department has intervened in three school systems, Paterson, Jersey City and Newark. In each case, the locally elected school board was abolished, the superintendent was fired and a new superintendent was appointed by

the state.

In Illinois, the state legislature passed a law in 1995 that gave the mayor of Chicago responsibility for that city's school system and the power to appoint his own chief executive to assume management duties of the schools there.

In California, the state declared the Compton school district a financial and academic failure in 1993, and a judge ordered a state-appointed administrator to assume the powers of the school board.

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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