- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 8, 2000

District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams is about to give his school superintendent nearly everything she has ever asked for, including an extra $62 million in next year's budget.
There's just one catch.
Once superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman has all the money and authority she says she needs, the mayor won't take any excuses if she can't make the schools perform.
Mrs. Ackerman has long complained that she cannot clear up lingering payroll problems or speed up purchase of textbooks because she lacks direct authority over personnel and procurement. She also has said she needs more money. If the mayor has his way, she won't be able to say that anymore.
"The idea is to remove these issues as excuses," Mr. Williams said. "So you can clearly see whether improvement is being made or not."
Mr. Williams said in an interview Monday that he is ready to give Mrs. Ackerman control over areas such as personnel, procurement and budgeting, which currently are centralized functions of the city government. He is even willing to change the school's budget year to match the academic calendar.
Mrs. Ackerman's prepared statement said she supports the mayor's educational proposals, which she feels will "enhance efforts in the critical areas" she has identified.
But there's a quiet consensus at One Judiciary Square that it's time for the light of public scrutiny to shine more brightly on Mrs. Ackerman, whose tenure includes difficulties with poor transportation, flat test scores and a special-education system even she admits is still broken.
But so far Mrs. Ackerman has escaped public criticism in general, partly because the lines of authority are blurred on issues like payroll and procurement, with city agencies and outside contractors doing much of the work.
Linda Moody, a former school board member from Ward 8, says it's about time the mayor used his influence to exert some oversight over the superintendent.
"She has had basically no supervision whatsoever," Mrs. Moody said. "She was free to do whatever she wanted to do, and the public had no idea what was happening."
Mrs. Moody, who is also president of the city's congress of parent-teacher associations, said the mayor should continue to help train and support school administrators and not just "dump money into the schools, but earmark it."
So far, the mayor has not specified where the increased school funding will come from.
But clearing up the issue of who is in charge is crucial, said a spokesman for neigboring Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools, where most school functions, including payroll and procurement, are separate from county government.
"Those issues are really important," said spokesman Paul Regnier. "We want to be responsive and we need to have control over our own processes."
Mr. Williams set the tone for increased public scrutiny of Mrs. Ackerman in his state of the District address Monday night, which outlined aggressive plans for improving city schools.
The mayor also floated the idea of hiring a chief operating officer to oversee the school system's more troublesome administrative operations, freeing Mrs. Ackerman to focus on instruction and curriculum.
"There's no question about it, I am trying to achieve leverage over the schools," he said in an interview.
One of his top advisers put it more strongly.
"It's no more excuses time," said the adviser. "We are going to hold Mrs. Ackerman accountable."

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