- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 17, 2000

Top District of Columbia officials yesterday promised to try to increase the salary and autonomy of schools Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman, urging her to stay instead of accepting San Francisco's top school post.

Mrs. Ackerman was expected to respond last night to the San Francisco School Board, which voted unanimously Sunday to offer her the job of heading California's fifth-largest school system. Her answer had not been made public at press time.

A bigger salary, more control over payroll and procurement, and more personnel to manage finances might be in the works if Mrs. Ackerman decides to stay, officials said after closed-door meetings yesterday. The superintendent met with Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Alice M. Rivlin, chief of the financial control board.

Mrs. Ackerman, who left the meetings yesterday without comment, reportedly is "frustrated" by micromanagement from the mayor's office, the D.C. Council, the elected school board, the financial control board and Congress.

Mr. Williams praised his schools chief and stressed that she is weighing "the pros and cons" of leaving.

"I am urging her to stay," he said. "I think she has made great progress already in her tenure. I'm saying to her, hang in there and fight for our kids."

Mrs. Rivlin echoed that sentiment. "I'm hoping she will see the wisdom and build on the success she's had."

"It would be a great loss of momentum if she were to leave," Mrs. Rivlin said. "I think she's got a lot of support here."

At a breakfast meeting with Mrs. Ackerman yesterday, Mrs. Rivlin said she reiterated that D.C. officials would continue to give the superintendent more autonomy with procurement and payroll. The control board chairwoman said she was "hopeful" and felt Mrs. Ackerman was giving serious consideration to staying.

"She's raised some important points, and we'll need to address them," Mrs. Rivlin said.

Although Mrs. Ackerman has not said publicly whether she will accept the position in San Francisco, school officials there "aren't even considering that she won't accept," according to Board of Education President Mary Hernandez.

"Even though she expressed some hesitancy, we don't want to consider what will happen if she doesn't take it," she said. "We feel that strongly about her."

Mrs. Hernandez said the board offered Mrs. Ackerman the job on Sunday after a second unanimous vote. Afterward, Mrs. Ackerman requested that they not "convey" the offer to the press until she had a chance to speak with top D.C. officials.

If Mrs. Ackerman accepts the offer, she is committed to completing the school year in the District, Mrs. Hernandez said.

Should Mrs. Ackerman decide to lead San Francisco's 63,000-student school system, she would replace interim Superintendent Linda Davis, who has led the district since Bill Rojas left last summer for Dallas.

Mrs. Ackerman prevailed over two finalists from California for the position, which offers a salary of $175,000. She makes $165,000 a year as head of the District's 77,000-student school system.

Salary negotiations for the San Francisco post have begun, and the school board hopes to vote on a contract at its meeting Tuesday.

Mrs. Ackerman was deputy superintendent for instruction in Seattle before coming to the District two years ago. Since then, she has made progress in improving standards for students and teachers, her supporters say.

"We do not want her to leave," said Barbara Bullock, president of the Washington Teachers Union.

"She is the first superintendent I have ever worked with here who knows about instruction. She has managed to start getting this system back on track."

Urban League President Maudine Cooper agreed. "She was the best hope for the resurrection of this dysfunctional system," said Mrs. Cooper, a former member of the control board's advisory education board of trustees.

"She was just what we needed. We deserve what we get," she said.

Mrs. Ackerman's supporters have expressed fear that reforms she started may just "fall by the wayside."

"There were many things parents were complaining about that the superintendent couldn't do much about," said Delabian Rice-Thurston, head of the advocacy group Parents United for D.C. Public Schools.

"But it has been amazing to see her emphasis on student performance. We are very disappointed that she may be gone before we get a chance to see her innovations work."

Mrs. Ackerman's detractors say she often makes excuses and that they haven't seen concrete results in improved student achievement, spending or special-education busing.

But both groups say she faced an uphill struggle in her attempts to reform the troubled school system, exacerbated by a tangled leadership situation.

The convoluted sharing of power has led to a number of disputes among the superintendent and city officials, particularly over the procurement process, charter schools, the budget cycle and payroll.

"In the absence of a clear-cut governance situation, everybody is my boss," Mrs. Ackerman told The Washington Times last week.

"What else am I to do?"

The Board of Education has little power these days and there has been no resurrection for the financial control board's advisory education board of trustees after members resigned over a charter-school dispute.

Next month, Mrs. Ackerman may gain a new set of bosses after voters decide how their school board should look. Until then, the system can't begin to search for a replacement, said school officials.

Regardless, in an era of intense competition for superintendents, city officials would have a hard time attracting another schools chief quickly.

"I think it will be very hard to replace her," said Ms. Cooper. "But I don't see the city's leaders learning their lessons. As I said before, we deserve what we get."

• Clarence Williams contributed to this report.

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