- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2000

The D.C. Council recently passed the "School Governance Charter Amendment Act of 2000," a proposal to reform the structure of the Board of Education by reducing the board from 11 members to nine. Five members, including the president, would be elected and four would be appointed by the mayor. I was among seven members who voted for that proposal.

Under this proposal, candidates would be elected from newly created "Special School Districts" composed of the following combined wards: District I: Wards 1 and 2; District II: Wards 3 and 4; District III: Wards 5 and 6; and, District IV: Wards 7 and 8. Each Special School District would elect one board member.

Another proposal was considered as well. That one would have permitted the mayor to appoint the superintendent and board members.

I believe the proposed bill is a step in the right direction. By creating the "Special School Districts" from which four of the board members will be elected, I believe the tendency to focus on solutions that affect "our" children instead of "all" children in the District will be lessened.

Further, the combined ward structure makes practical sense as well. The reality of public education in the District is that cross-boundary enrollment is increasingly the norm and to facilitate effective problem-solving the structure of the board should be reflective of this trend.

In the School Governance Companion Act of 2000, which was more recently considered by council, the roles and responsibilities of the school board and superintendent were defined. I consider this legislation to be the most essential step in school governance reform because it will enhance accountability and efficiency by setting forth roles and responsibilities for the board and the superintendent of public schools.

As for the duties of the board, I strongly support eliminating the board's role in school personnel decisions. Current law has placed the board in the middle of personnel decisions that create distractions and detract from the board's ultimate function, i.e. policy-making for the public school system. In contrast, the superintendent should be given the freedom and authority to serve as the actual operational head of the school system and charged with carrying out the policies set by the board.

Of course, this authority should appropriately be coupled with accountability for outcomes.

I support a hybrid approach to selecting members of the Board of Education, whereby some members would be elected and some would be appointed by the mayor, for several reasons. Having a partially appointed board would give the District the ability to attract individuals with specialized skills and expertise to serve on the board, but who would not stand for election.

Further, this benefit could be gained without completely eliminating voter participation by also including elected seats on the board.

Given the high importance residents place on the education of their children, I also support putting these options before the voters. Let the voters declare their preference and decide between an entirely elected board, the mayor's proposal to appoint the board members and the superintendent, or a hybrid proposal.

While critics can disagree over the means of reform, we must all work together to find a mutually acceptable solution to achieve our shared goal of designing a better public school system for our children.

Charlene Drew Jarvis is the Ward 4 representative on the D.C. Council and the president of Southeastern University.

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