- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 13, 2004

The D.C. Board of Education voted 4-3 Tuesday night to eliminate 550 jobs, including 285 teaching positions. The decision aroused the ire of the usual suspects. George Springer, head of the teachers union, said, “We’re not going to take it lying down.” Iris Toyer, co-chair of Parents United, said she doesn’t think “board members are in touch with what it takes to operate a school.” School board member William Lockridge, who voted against the cuts, said the city cannot build a “world-class” system on a “shoestring budget.” The institutions those critics are beholden to do not know what it takes to run a successful school system — in theory or in practice. Essentially, their job is to lobby for more funding and to oppose school choice. This does not mean the board’s plan is flawless.

The central problem with the board’s plan is that it places the authority for individual school budgets and personnel in the hands of administrators far removed from the classroom. Mayor Williams actually nailed the problem. “My hope is that, with the cuts that have to be made here, we are pointing ourselves down the road where we can actually look at these fundamental issues that are driving the schools’ budget … as opposed to the number of teachers, which I don’t think is really the major issue.”

We agree with the mayor’s assessment, and we go a step further. The major issue in this case is that central administrators — instead of principals and parents — will determine who gets laid off where.

The first order of business should be to do no additional harm. Yet the layoffs appear to hit classrooms particularly hard, and that will surely spell serious academic shortfalls of students next school year.

As to the other matter, each D.C. school has had in place for several years what are called Local School Restructuring Teams (LSRT). Each year these teams — comprised of principals and teachers, parents and community leaders — develop annual operating budgets and capital-improvement projects for their respective schools. For example, one LSRT may request a French teacher instead of a physical education instructor, while another LSRT seeks a geometry instructor instead of a computer instructor. The choice is theirs because it is their children who benefit from such school-based options. Too often, however, the central administrators call the shots — administrators who manage to hold onto to their cushy jobs while children and their parents are shortchanged.

So long as entrenched bureaucrats hold the decision-making power, our children will remain on the losing end of the battle against real reform. That will be continue to be the case regardless of who becomes the next superintendent.

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