- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The educator who D.C. officials had hoped would become superintendent has rejected their offer. “As I looked at this situation, I didn’t have the personal courage to go forward,” Carl Cohn told The Washington Post. Now, if only D.C. leaders can muster the political courage to move forward.

Mayor Williams, Council Chairman Linda Cropp and School Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz began negotiating with Mr. Cohn after No. 1 pick Rudy Crew misled them into believing he would accept the job. Similarly, Mr. Cohn strung officials along with a list of demands — including his unconventional call for a one-year contract. His withdrawal could be a political blessing in disguise.

Like rams, the executive and legislative branches have been butting heads over school governance for several months. Their battle was a major point of contention with the superintendent candidates because most of the discussions turned on governance and budget issues, instead of teaching and learning. In fact, not only did the battling lead to the resignation of Superintendent Paul Vance eight long months ago, but it also led to the departure of State Education Officer Connie Spinner, who oversaw considerable federal school-related funds. So, instead of asking, “Where stands school reform?” D.C. leaders are scratching their noggins and asking themselves, “Now what do we do?”

Because of the city’s failure to lure a superintendent, the bulk of a special $13 million federal appropriation for schools is being withheld. About $2.4 million will be available so that schools can continue a literacy program. But the other money was not released because interim Superintendent Robert Rice failed to give congressional leaders a detailed plan on how the money would be spent on teaching and learning.

Will the ding-duh bells ring all summer long? We hope not. Most of the planning for the upcoming school year is done over the summer and, unfortunately, those preparations are being conducted by an interim superintendent, Mr. Rice, who doesn’t quite seem capable of articulating his vision to Capitol Hill or City Hall.

The next steps for leadership Washington, though, are clear: 1) Remember, foremost, that D.C. Public Schools is a $1 billion enterprise; 2) continue the search for a highly qualified superintendent and state education officer; and 3) routinely check that Mr. Rice and his staff are doing what they should to ensure a smooth transition from summer to fall. Those are easy enough summer assignments for Mr. Williams, Mrs. Cropp and Mrs. Cafritz — elected officials who consider themselves “leaders.”

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