- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The leading candidate for D.C. schools chief apparently doesn’t want the job. Carl A. Cohn, who is being wooed by the city’s top leaders, told The Washington Post that he only will take the job if the city and Congress consider his “truckload” of demands. And even then, if they were to bow to his conditional acceptance, Mr. Cohn said he would stay but one year. The city must tell Mr. Cohn thanks, but no thanks.

Mr. Cohn must not want the job, considering his outrageous proposal. For example, Mr. Cohn wants D.C. and congressional leaders to sit down, summit-like, and guarantee, in writing, that they all are going to change not just D.C. law, but federal law, before he even signs on for one year. One of those changes is fiscal oversight. Mr. Cohn said the school system’s finance chief should report to him, not the District’s chief financial officer. Granting that one wish, of course, is itself a nonstarter. Federal law mandates oversight of the city’s coffers out of budgetary necessities. Besides, the ripple effect of other agency chiefs requesting the same is a sure thing.

This is not the first time that a potential superintendent limited his commitment — and, ergo, lost his effectiveness — as schools chief. Paul Vance agreed to a one-year term at his appointment in 2000. He and the school board never agreed on a long-term contract, partly because Mr. Vance made no substantial measure of change. During his 21/2 years as superintendent, his lame duck status was a particular hindrance. Principals and teachers, as well as his own handpicked administrators, were keenly aware of Mr. Vance’s untenable tenure. Members of both the executive and legislative branches privately expressed to us their disappointment with Mr. Vance, whose torpid bureaucracy repeatedly faced budget overruns and, more importantly, failed to lift students from the lower rungs of the academic ladder.

In the past decade, the city has had six superintendents. D.C. leaders lost the upper hand by bickering over the governance issue. Exit candidate Rudy Crew and enter now Mr. Cohn, a short-termer who wants to hang around long enough to do what blowflies do best. City leaders must stand united against Mr. Cohn and his demands — even though that might mean starting anew the search for a quality superintendent.

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