- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2000

If you live in the District and your child is in a private or parochial school, consider yourself fortunate. Parents of D.C. public school students have a lot on their minds as the start of a new school year nears. A new superintendent, upcoming elections, mayoral appointments and the creation of a new state education agency should spell the end of the status quo. What will stand in its stead, though, is anyone's guess.

First things first. The city's new school chief, former Montgomery County Superintendent Paul Vance, had a very good reputation when he took over in July. But don't forget the D.C. Public School system and its political handlers have quite a reputation, too. The bigwigs in this metropolis can't even pay teachers and summer workers on time.

On the other hand, the new school governance structure should mean officials will rethink those and other dynamics. In fact, the new structure will force some changes some for the better, and some not. The first changes will occur in the school board elections in November, which follow a highly controversial vote in June to make significant changes to the city's charter. The changes, approved by voters in June, mean there will be nine on the school board. The president of the board will be elected citywide; instead of eight members elected from each of the eight wards there will be four chosen from the new districts. The most important change is the fact that the referendum prohibits the elected board from meddling in the day-to-day affairs of the school system and from dictating which principals and teachers are assigned to which schools.

As for the elections, so far 28 persons have notified election officials of their interest in the newly configured D.C. Board of Education. These include Robert Childs and William Lockridge. The remaining four seats on the nine-member board will be filled by Mayor Anthony Williams, who has said he will not publicly discuss those names until election time. That is probably for the best.

Until voters spoke in June, political wannabes historically used the D.C. Board of Education as a springboard to a seat on the D.C. Council. They can't necessarily do that anymore as the flip-flops by one current member perfectly illustrates. Dwight Singleton, Ward 4 school board member, notified the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics this spring that he was considering a D.C. Council seat. After voters approved the changes in the charter, however, he withdrew his name from council consideration, perhaps hoping instead that the mayor would hand him an appointment to the school board. Well, guess what? Mr. Singleton changed his mind again. On Aug. 11, he notified election officials he is indeed seeking re-election to the school board.

Of course, there are other substantial changes in the future. The new board, the hybrid of mix of elected and appointed members, will get to appoint a new superintendent, which means the current one is essentially a lame duck. So, while public school parents are hoping for a worry-free start to the 2000-2001 school year, there are no such guarantees in Washington.

Parents who don't send their children to D.C. public schools don't have to worry about simple things such as working school buses and a sufficient stock of textbooks. If D.C. parents had other choices, such as vouchers, fewer of them would have to worry about those things. Now there's a thought: vouchers, instead of political uncertainty, for D.C. students.

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