- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 15, 2004

“I do not see enough votes to override [the mayor’s school-reform veto],” D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp recently told us, “so we are back to square one.” That “we” included Mayor Williams, who last week withdrew his plan to take over public schools and last night stood with the council on legislation that retains the status quo. City Hall calls the legislation a compromise; we call it a huge disappointment.

The plan to reform schools first surfaced early last fall. Part of the plan included a proposal that would have strengthened accountability by granting the mayor and the council control of the school system — something Mrs. Cropp and Education Committee Chairman Kevin Chavous initially viewed as necessary to rein in the budget-breaking school bureaucracy. Added later were changes that would have established a schools chancellor to oversee all aspect of public education and would have demoted the school board to an advisory panel. We supported the reform initiative and encouraged the council to stiffen its spine and settle what arguably has been the greatest of educational distractions — school governance.

Yet another snag changed those dynamics. In November, the superintendent unexpectedly resigned, forcing the mayor, the council and the school board to turn their attention toward finding a replacement. Finally, last month, the council got around to the mayor’s plan, and it voted down reform and approved a plan that restored an all-elected school board. The mayor rightly vetoed that bill, and, fortunately, the council could not drum up the necessary two-thirds vote to override it. The mayor stuck with his reform proposal until last week, when he acquiesced and agreed with a majority of council members to maintain the current setup of an elected and mayorally appointed school board members.

Failed leadership from the mayor and on the council resulted in the “square one” compromise: the Board of Education Continuity and Transition Act of 2004. It calls for the elected-appointed school board to remain in place and boosts the authority of the State Education Office, which is responsible for auditing enrollment and other chores involving federal dollars. The compromise, we are told, appealed to Carl Cohn, who likely will be the new superintendent.

Nothing has changed. In fact, we are in the exact same spot we were in 2000 — awaiting the arrival of yet another superintendent, flush against preparations for a new school year and the school reform debate continues to swirl around the issue of governance. Meanwhile, leadership Washington thinks it can add another notch to its legislative belt. What a disappointing turn of events.

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