- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2000

D.C. elections officials expect to spend about $330,000 on tomorrow's school governance referendum. The cost comes to an average of $1 per voter, $5 per student and $30,000 per school board member. That's a very modest investment in what could be a crucial moment for District schools. Once those costs sink in, perhaps you will agree with The Washington Times that a "yes" vote tomorrow is a vote "for" children who for decades have suffered at the hands of a dysfunctional system.

The only item before voters is the "School Governance Charter Amendment Act of 2000." If approved it will substantially amend the D.C. Home Rule Act to:

• Reduce the number of members of the Board of Education from 11 to nine.

• Combine the eight wards (1 and 2, 3 and 4, 5 and 6, and 7 and 8) to create four new school election districts.

• Allow voters to elect four members from the new districts.

• Allow voters to elect one member, board president, at large.

• Allow the mayor to appoint and the D.C. Council to confirm four members.

• Allow the board to hire, evaluate and remove the superintendent, establish personnel policies for hiring principals, and approve an annual budget.

• Allow the council to create a state education agency.

• Mandate the D.C. Council revisit all but the last two provisions by 2004.

The last two provisions are necessary caveats to ensure reform of the city's troubled public school system on behalf of all youngsters. For one, a state education agency would make sense if that agency oversees all elements of public education, including public schools, charter schools, and post-secondary institutions, such as the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) and the D.C. School of Law.

Most important, though, is the last provision, which ensures oversight be provided by whoever wins the 2002 mayoral, council and school board elections. And lax oversight, of course, is inarguably what led public schooling down troubled paths over the years.

Opponents of the referendum, including school board members, argue otherwise. In their minds, the measure knocks down democracy and grants too much power to the mayor and the council. Yet, the same people who elect the mayor and the council also elect the school board.

However, their argument does not wash for several other reasons, too. Essentially opponents are ignoring decades of mismanagement by appointed school officials, micromanagement by elected school board members, high illiteracy and dropout rates, frustrated teachers, parents and principals, troubled special-education programs, blown budgets, outdated textbooks, and inadequate facilities. Moreover, opponents are ignoring the fact that only a handful of schools have prospered under the current governance structure. That means two things: D.C. Public Schools fail the overwhelming majority of youngsters, and all schools are not treated equally.

To be sure, the referendum, in and of itself, is no panacea for what ails public education in this city. In fact, it is a compromise between those who support an all-appointed board, including this newspaper, and those who are staunch defenders of the status quo. However, history proves over and again that change must come, and the most effective change comes in the hands citizens of a true democracy. That is why people are saying "yes" to the school governance referendum. That is what you must vote "for" in tomorrow's special election.

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