- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 1, 2004

D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous said yesterday the ongoing dispute between council members and the mayor over who should control public schools is impeding the school system’s ability to hire a new superintendent.

“We need to get a good leader in here, and there’s no doubt that this is complicating things,” Mr. Chavous said yesterday before council members met privately with Mayor Anthony A. Williams to discuss the school-governance issue.

Mr. Williams wants greater oversight of the struggling school system, including having the superintendent report to him and the council rather than the school board.

“The mayor is sticking to the program,” said Tony Bullock, Mr. Williams’ spokesman.

Last week, Mr. Williams vetoed council legislation that would keep the school board in charge of city schools. In his veto letter to the council, Mr. Williams called the school system’s current governance structure “fractured.” He said the school board’s oversight of city schools includes a history of “fiscal mismanagement … and a lack of urgency regarding educational reform.”

“The mayor feels very strongly that there should be a streamlined accountability for performance,” Mr. Bullock said. “Right now we have a system that is all over the place.”

Mr. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat, said by the end of the week he wants to resolve the differences between the council and Mr. Williams on the issue of school governance, but did not indicate how he plans to do so.

“The mayor wants greater involvement in the school system, and I understand that,” Mr. Chavous said yesterday. “I want to give him greater involvement. But we’re still trying to determine what the ultimate solution is going to be.”

Local education advocacy groups agree that the school governance debate is hampering the search for a replacement for Paul L. Vance, the D.C. schools superintendent who retired in November.

A group of eight education advocacy groups yesterday sent a letter to council members, school board members and Mr. Williams urging an end to the debate.

“It is crucial that we be able to have a permanent leader in place to begin planning for the coming year,” the letter from the education advocates said.

The letter was signed by Parents United for D.C. Public Schools, D.C. Congress of PTA, the 21st Century School Fund, D.C. Acorn, Campaign for the D.C. School Budget, the Senior Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators, D.C. Jobs With Justice and D.C. Voice.

“The number of proposals being floated and the protracted length of time have compromised the search for a new superintendent,” the groups said.

Concern that the debate is hurting the superintendent search peaked last month when former New York City schools Chancellor Rudolph F. Crew, a top choice for D.C. superintendent, chose instead to accept a position with the Miami-Dade County school district.

Tensions between Mr. Williams and the D.C. school system further escalated last week after Robert Rice, interim D.C. schools superintendent, accused the Williams administration of undermining the school system’s case for $13 million in federal funds tied to the federally sponsored school-voucher program.

Officials for Mr. Williams denied Mr. Rice’s accusation, first reported by The Washington Post.

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