- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 23, 2003

When Supertintendent Paul Vance announced his resignation on Nov. 14, the Board of Education moved quickly to appoint an interim chief. The board decided on Elfreda Massie, the school system’s chief academic officer. While we have no qualms about Ms. Massie temporarily holding the post for the sake of continuity, we hold serious concerns regarding the pace which with some city leaders are moving toward finding a permanent replacement.

The school system has an internal governance structure that made the board’s process of selecting an interim chief quite easy. While Mr. Vance gets credit for recommending Ms. Massie and the board gets credit for approving her selection, the control board gets credit, too. The Andrew Brimmer control board, though, gets credit for devising the current structure, which includes the CEO, CAO and COO. So, the Cafritz school board merely followed the footsteps of the previous school board and chose the most obvious person — the CAO — to temporarily fill the post.

But the school board wants to go several steps too far: It wants to select a search committee and hire a permanent superintendent. Those moves fly in the face of the reform efforts that are currently underway.

Like it or not, Mayor Tony Williams, the D.C. Council, the school board and the school system are all considering various reform plans. There are several local and federal legislative changes that must be made, and stakeholders (including voters) have yet to even decide what form the school board itself will take next year this time. The only certainty is that current law dictates that there will be a school board. Practically everything else regarding the governance of D.C. schools — including oversight of federal school dollars — is up in the air. In fact, Mr. Vance himself cited the many debates as one reason for his unexpected departure.

Board members have said they want a top-drawer chief executive, not merely someone who has risen through the union-dominated ranks. We seriously doubt that they mean what they say. After all, what qualified chief executive would take a job knowing they might be asked to step aside within a year of perching himself behind his new desk?

The board wants to jump ahead of the line because it is part of the problem. The board knew that Mr. Vance had said during his initial appointment in 2000 that he expected to stay in the superintendency a year, maybe two. The board satisfied its whims with month-to-month contracts with Mr. Vance. Now, it wants the public to think it’s part of the solution by searching for a permanent replacement. We remind the board and other city leaders making the precipitous leap to remember the old adage about haste making waste.

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