- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2003

D.C. Schools Superintendent Paul L. Vance yesterday announced that he is resigning, citing his reluctance to participate in upcoming battles over vouchers, a looming budget deficit and Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ proposal to take over the school system.

“To be very candid with you, I just don’t want to be bothered with it all,” said Mr. Vance, 73, who took over the troubled school system in July 2000 and earned $175,000 a year.

“There’s going to be a great deal of confusion and politics about the mayor’s plan, the council’s plan, the school board’s plan,” he said yesterday.

Mr. Vance said his resignation would take effect Dec. 31, but a statement released by the Board of Education said the resignation was effective immediately. Mr. Vance recommended that his chief of staff, Elfreda Massie, take over the position on an interim basis during the search for a new superintendent. The school board will vote on that proposal Wednesday.

Mr. Vance’s resignation caught some by surprise, but was anticipated by others.

“It’s definitely a surprise, but at the same time he had looked like a guy who was not really focused on the job anymore,” said D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty. “I don’t think there’s any question we needed a new superintendent.”

Mr. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, said Mr. Vance had always been a transitional superintendent and the search for a long-term superintendent should have begun some time ago.

“We really should have done a better job anticipating,” he said.

When Mr. Vance was hired he pledged to serve in the District for no more than two years.

“I was not surprised by the announcement,” said D.C. political activist Dorothy Brizill, who runs the Web site www.dcpswatch.com. “Everyone agrees some management changes need to be made at D.C. public schools.”

Mrs. Brizill said between Mr. Vance’s month-to-month contract status and a resolution between Mr. Williams and the council to have a reform plan in place by Dec. 31, the writing was on the wall for the superintendent.

At a news conference yesterday, Mr. Vance said he brought about “a changing of the culture in the school system,” built around principals who had confidence in their ability to successfully educate urban youngsters.

The mayor agreed.

“There is no doubt that Paul Vance gave his heart and soul to the betterment of education here in the District and elsewhere,” Mr. Williams said in a statement released late yesterday. “He has had a distinguished career in public education and he has left his mark on the education system here in our city.”

But the school system has continued to be plagued by oversight problems, declining enrollment and escalating violence among students.

The Washington Times reported yesterday that most children in D.C. public schools continue to be among the worst readers in the nation, scoring even lower than they did a year ago.

Only 11 percent of D.C. fourth-graders and just 10 percent of eighth-graders are proficient in reading — meaning they are literate enough to “read to learn” and deal with their most challenging schoolwork in further grades, according to the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress report, also called “The Nation’s Report Card.”

Also troubling is the continued unrest at Ballou High School in Southeast. Ballou was closed In October for more than a month after a student took a vial of mercury from an unattended classroom and spread it around the building, forcing a $1 million cleanup operation. Since reopening Nov. 10, there have been three large fights involving students, which brought police to the school.

At Anacostia High School, also in Southeast, Devin Fowlkes, a 16-year-old junior, was shot and killed outside his school Oct. 30. Devin was caught in the crossfire during a dispute between two other students. Last spring, nuisance fires set by students at Anacostia became almost a daily occurrence.

In June, The Times reported that city auditors found that school officials could not account for more than $1.6 million in credit-card charges for fiscal 2001. The unaccounted-for charges — which include unauthorized purchases of hotel services, food, entertainment and rental cars — made up about one-quarter of the school system’s $6.3 million credit-card expenses in fiscal 2001.

Six years ago, public school enrollment in the District numbered more than 77,000 students. School officials said enrollment for the 2002-2003 school year stands at 67,522, down a little less than 10,000 students since 1997, while enrollment in charter schools continued to grow, reaching 11,500 last year.

During Mr. Vance’s tenure, Mr. Williams recast the school board into a hybrid body of elected and appointed members. Earlier this fall, Mr. Williams floated a proposal that the council give him authority to appoint all the board members or make the independent school system a city agency so he can appoint a superintendent.

“We are clearly in a better place than we were four years ago, but we have fallen far short of where we need to be,” Mr. Williams said.

Mr. Vance, a lifelong educator, came to the District at the request of the presidentially appointed D.C. financial control board after the second school chief in four years resigned to take a similar post in San Francisco. He began his career as a classroom teacher in Philadelphia in 1961, ultimately becoming a principal. He later served as a deputy superintendent in Baltimore, then superintendent of the Montgomery County public schools beginning in 1991 until his retirement in 1999.

Mr. Vance had experienced health problems while serving in Montgomery County.

Denise Barnes contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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