- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2006

In his recently released proposal, D.C. Superintendent Clifford Janey offered both insight into his “master” plan for restructuring the D.C. Public Schools and his short-sightedness. Public charter schools, for sure, played a significant role in the superintendent’s decision-making.

Saying that declining enrollment in traditional public school translates into “a loss of $39 million in revenue,” Mr. Janey all but conceded that the competition created by public charter schools was miscalculated by an entrenched bureaucracy. Since the first two public charter schools opened in the District in 1996, enrollment has jumped to nearly 18,000 while the number of schools has now reached 51. The popularity of charter schools continues despite the fact that traditional public schools discriminate against some students (sometimes for academic reasons and sometimes because of where the student lives).

Attempting to turn around declining enrollment and recoup revenue, Mr. Janey offered a number of proposals, including consolidating three schools to save $2.9 million, increasing class sizes in the primary grades from 16 to 17 students to save $20.2 million and implementing an 8 percent cut in central-office staffing to shave $5.9 million off the operating budget. We applaud the superintendent for even acknowledging the fact that there is fat in the bureaucracy. But the central office must be cut, not merely trimmed. If Mr. Janey wants to mimic the charter-school movement (and we explain how he is doing that shortly), then he will propose deeper cuts in the bureaucracy. Charter schools are successful and less costly than public school systems because there is no system — no central office — to bog down principals, parents and teachers.

To his credit, Mr. Janey wants to bolster vocational education and transform a handful of high schools into specialized academies. Such transformation, if effective, will likely mean more high school graduates will be better prepared to enter the workforce or college. Still, Mr. Janey is trying, in interesting fashion, to compete with charter schools. For example, he wants to transform Eastern High School on Capitol Hill into the D.C. Latin School. Of course, the model is the historic Boston Latin School, America’s oldest public school, which gives students a classical education in the humanities. But the charter movement has bested Mr. Janey: Washington Latin School is slated to open this summer.

The District’s public schools have long-standing problems — from costly mismanagement and a burdensome bureaucracy to ornery union rules and political meddling. We await Mr. Janey’s solutions to fix what’s broken.

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