- The Washington Times - Friday, February 18, 2000

The District of Columbia Council Thursday voted 7-6 to change the city's school board to an unprecedented mix of elected and mayorally appointed members, settling an issue that has divided the panel and the mayor for months.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams pledged his support for the latest school-governance plan, which must gain approval from voters, likely in a November referendum. The D.C. financial control board, which currently oversees public education, also will have to accept the changes before handing back authority over schools.

The hybrid school board plan, to run on a four-year trial basis, replaces on the ballot the two-choice referendum that would have let voters choose between the mayor's five-person appointed board plan and the council's nine-member, fully elected board.

The current school board has 11 members.

The hybrid board would have four mayoral appointments, four elected members from the city's eight wards, and an elected president at large.

"When you can't get what you want, you do what everyone else does and compromise," Mr. Williams said, adding that the plan "is going to work in favor of all children."

"At least now, folks are going to focus on what is needed to make the classroom work, as opposed to a costly, polarizing campaign about who is right, when the bottom line is, none of us have the real answer," said council member Kevin P. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat and chairman of the education committee.

Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, said she supported the hybrid to ensure a measure of democracy and to be done with the matter.

"I'm sick of this issue taking up so much of our time and energy, since I have no confidence that any action we would take today would be the right one," she said.

The compromise solution, however, left some council members bitterly denouncing the plan.

"What we have here is either a recipe for disaster or a sham. Take your pick," said council member David A. Catania, at-large Republican. He favored a seven-member board with only two appointments.

Voting in favor of the hybrid board were: Mr. Chavous; Mrs. Schwartz; Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large Democrat; Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat; Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat; Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat; and Charlene Drew Jarvis, Ward 4 Democrat.

Voting against the board were: Mr. Catania; Sandy Allen, Ward 8 Democrat; Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat; Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat; Vincent Orange, Ward 5 Democrat; and Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat.

It could not be determined Thursday whether the control board supports a hybrid board.

Ms. Allen fears her ward will be shut out of the partially elected board that collapses the eight wards into four school districts. Mr. Orange agreed.

"What we're creating today is essentially the battle of the wards," he said.

"This is a cop-out that will do nothing but shortchange our children's futures," Mr. Brazil said.

Mr. Catania attacked his colleagues for siding with Mr. Williams, though most of them want a fully elected school board.

"When are we going to vote on what we think is right, instead of what we think he will like?" Mr. Catania asked.

The council was set to pass a similar hybrid-board bill earlier this month. But Mr. Williams scuttled the legislation with a letter expressing his displeasure with the idea, though he did not say he would have vetoed such a plan.

"The various proposals forthcoming from the council are designed to address political interests, rather than real results for our children," Mr. Williams wrote initially.

In a second letter supporting his reversal, Mr. Williams described the hybrid board as the plan that "best addresses the deficiencies of the status quo."

Thursday, Mr. Williams said his first letter "poisoned the well."

Mr. Williams abandoned his plan for an appointed board this week after control board Chairman Alice M. Rivlin and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the city's nonvoting member of Congress, implored city officials to present a single choice to voters.

In 1996, the congressionally created control board stripped away the powers of the city's elected school board amid continued low test scores, high dropout rates and financial mismanagement in the school system.

The control board is scheduled to hand back the reins of authority in June, but Mrs. Rivlin told a congressional subcommittee recently that would not happen this year unless a better management structure is in place.

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