Judging from the D.C. Council hearing — excuse me, witch hunt — on seizing control of the school system, the deal is done. It is all over but more shouting to celebrate Mayor Greenhorn’s victory.
I asked D.C. Board of Education President Robert C. Bobb yesterday whether he thought the council had made up its mind.
Still licking his wounds in the aftermath of Tuesday’s merciless council blood bath, he answered, “Are you kidding? Did you watch those hearings?”
Indeed I did, and it wasn’t a pretty sight.
There was no Southern hospitality coming from that Wilson Building dais. To be sure, witnesses, especially Superintendent Clifford B. Janey, were berated, badgered, interrupted and not allowed to answer questions during a kangaroo-court-style inquest.
“It’s too little, too late,” shouted one council member after another of the newly elected board’s plan. Focusing on academic achievement, it was presented as an alternative to the power-grabbing takeover that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty sought.
Meanwhile, most of the council members can’t wait to get their hands on the school system’s budget through the convoluted Fenty plan. They pontificate ad nauseam about the ills of D.C. schools, which have been abused and neglected by many long before either Mr. Bobb or Mr. Janey arrived on the sullied scene.
Marion Barry, the former mayor and Ward 8 Democrat, was the worst offender. It is clear he takes no culpability for the abysmal failures of the school system as he ticks off his long list of city service, including years as the school board president and four terms as mayor.
Sounding like the lone voice of reason, Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, asked the most pertinent question of the day: Is any information available that suggests that elected boards versus appointed boards or mayoral control make one iota of difference in improving academic achievement? The answer is no.
In fact, Mr. Bobb presented test scores from cities where student achievement has risen under the authority of elected school bodies. The new, untested school board under Mr. Bobb’s direction presented a plan, with oversight and accountability standards that could be implemented without amending the city’s Home Rule Act.
No one, especially Mr. Bobb or the new board, he said, is interested in maintaining the status quo. But he thinks it is unfair to talk about the problems only. Students are achieving great things despite the obstacles in school and in their homes. Just visit Frazier O’Leary’s classes at Cardozo High School if you want examples.
All this rehashing of the school system’s problems is counterproductive and a sham. The majority of council members, for their various political reasons and agendas, are determined to pass this school governance legislation.
Chairman Vincent C. Gray should simply stop this charade and call for the vote. Save D.C. residents their time, their passion and a few bucks by canceling the rest of these meaningless hearings. Go ahead and strip them of their voting rights and be done with it so everybody can move on to the next round of back-to-the-future school reform experiments.
What they should do is check their tirades and at least act as though they have an open mind to their constituents’ and witnesses’ comments in the future.
“Public bodies must have public processes,” said a conciliatory Mr. Bobb. He concedes that Mr. Fenty has won the votes on the council to neuter the school board.
The newly elected school board president, who moved to quicken the pace of school reforms already in the making, lamented that advisory neighborhood commissioners will have more authority than the advisory school board under the Fenty school management maze. That’s not saying much.
Numerous city residents are concerned that the council will further politicize school issues as the city begins its largest capital improvement project in decades to the tune of more than $2 billion for school modernization.
During the campaign last fall, Mr. Bobb was accused of the same goal: getting control of valuable school buildings for his developer cronies. “I tell my critics now, ‘You’ve been shouting at the wrong target.’ ” Mr. Bobb should be given a chance to take this new board to a level not seen in this city. Under Mr. Bobb’s able and experienced leadership, the lines of authority might have been crystal clear. He exudes confidence and exacts competence.
“I hire and I fire — seems pretty clear to me,” he said.
And it seems pretty clear to me that he was about to take an ax and chop through the Sherwood Forest that is the school system’s bureaucracy. However, none of that is going to stop him from moving forward with his mission, despite his earlier threats to quit if Mr. Fenty’s takeover plan is adopted.
“The schools will not be on recess” as the battle over control of the school system continues, he pledges repeatedly.
As for the school system’s questionable financial status and operations, “everybody has culpability,” he said.
And, it will take everybody to find long-term, sustainable solutions to the problems of improving students’ academic achievements.
Yet out of this heightened debate, Mr. Bobb hopes that all adults will come together to help students. “Let’s set aside [our differences] and do what it takes and do it in less than 10 years,” he says.
But that’s not likely to happen. If history is a road map, D.C. leaders will continue to confront the ills besetting the school system with more finger-pointing, posturing and pontificating.