- The Washington Times - Friday, May 19, 2000

The District of Columbia financial control board may name an interim superintendent to replace Arlene Ackerman and resurrect the board of trustees as early as Friday, city officials said Thursday.

Wilma Bonner, former principal of Wilson High School who currently supervises the senior high division of schools, and deputy superintendent and former Eastern High School Principal Ralph Neal are among the candidates to temporarily replace Mrs. Ackerman when she leaves July 17 to head the San Francisco schools, according to city sources.

Meanwhile, council members are urging the D.C. financial control board to meet immediately to establish a superintendent selection committee.

"This needs to happen quickly," said D.C. Council member Jack Evans, Democrat, Ward 2.

It is speculated that the control board chairman and vice chairman will appoint five new school trustees to oversee the schools and help conduct the search for a new superintendent. Candidates mentioned include former D.C. school superintendent Floretta McKenzie, businessman Terry Golden, attorney Jim Hudson and George Dalley, a former staffer for Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat. The acting superintendent would also serve as a trustee.

Educators and others think finding a new superintendent quickly will be difficult in light of Mrs. Ackerman's very public airing of her frustrations.

"Who will want to come here now?" asked former trustee Emily Washington, a teacher.

"When the superintendent arrived and demanded there be change, they escorted her out. I don't buy the posturing this past week from the control board, the mayor or the City Council."

Speaking for the first time since her resignation Wednesday, Mrs. Ackerman blamed the layers of bureaucracy and lack of support from city officials for driving her out of the District.

"I did realize that in making a public stand, I had made a critical decision to leave," she said. "I had to take myself out of the way."

She said she resigned after going public with her frustrations because she knew "it would be hard to repair that relationship."

At the same time, she said she hoped by airing her concerns, it would open the door for the changes that need to be made in order to attract a new superintendent and allow that person to succeed.

"I hope, though, that I have left the door open and ensured that the new superintendent can get the resources and tools needed to take reform up to the next level."

If not, she warned, even the most competent administrator would be stymied by the system.

But she added, "I already see the community rallying together to do so in a way I hadn't before.

City officials have promised to give the schools superintendent control over procurement and payroll two of Mrs. Ackerman's key demands, according to Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat.

But that didn't happen soon enough for Mrs. Ackerman, who says she has been promised control over those two responsibilities for two years.

"There are too many people involved in day-to-day operations and have been for too long," she said.

"The city is going to have to deal with the complex tangle of governing structures over the school system. They promised they would two years ago. They didn't."

Mrs. Ackerman said if city officials don't address this issue now, it will be very difficult "to move the school district forward… . This city is never going to thrive until its schools do."

Many agreed, but said if reformers such as Mrs. Ackerman were constantly run out, nothing would change for the schools.

"Here we go again," said Debra Frazier, a parent. "People are apathetic at the idea of change anymore. We don't vote so they think they can do whatever they want."

But some city officials said privately that Mrs. Ackerman was making excuses for a lack of concrete results and that her decision to leave was based on personal interest.

Regardless, the next two months will keep the schools chief busy with getting ready for summer school, focusing on teacher training and searching for a chief financial officer, an operations manager and other personnel.

And for the next few months, city officials will keep busy trying to replace the departing superintendent.

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