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Statement on School Governance
Councilmember Carol Schwartz
February 17, 2000




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February 17, 2000
CONTACT: John Abbot
(202) 724-8105

Councilmember Carol Schwartz delivered the following statement before the Council's vote today on school governance in the District of Columbia:

An elected Board of Education or an appointed Board of Education -- which one is better? Ask the National School Boards Association. There is no empirical data which supports either position. But in our frustration with our schools and the education our children are getting, we feel compelled to do something -- anything. I'm not sure that changing the way our Board of Education is selected will improve the education of our children, but this is where we find ourselves.

Throughout this debate, I have strongly favored an elected Board. Of the options we have discussed and voted on, sending this issue to the voters in the form of two ballot initiatives (with one elected board and one appointed board) was among the most unappealing to me. I did not want to be a part of the divisive battle that certainly would have resulted had we gone that route. so I voted against it.

I co-sponsored the first initiative by Councilmember Kevin Chavous for a nine-member elected Board with the President elected at-large. I agreed to a seven-member elected Board that the Education Committee crafted on January 18. Then, during the Council's retreat and after discussion with the Mayor on the issue, I said I'd go with a hybrid board with five members elected, including the President, and four appointed by the Mayor and approved by the Council. I agreed to support this option in an effort to compromise with the Mayor and in my fervent desire to keep this divisive issue off the the ballot.

I expressed my fear of division among our city's residents over this issue to the Mayor at a meeting on January 28, but he dismissed my concerns. Less than a week later, when Control Board Chairman Alice Rivlin and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton raised these very same concerns about divisiveness, all of the sudden they had merit with our Mayor. No wonder the Council's working relationship with the Mayor is often strained. And the compromise creating a hybrid board, as you well know, fell apart February 1st when the Mayor wrote a letter right before the vote condemning the compromise, which he said was only political. Again, no wonder! This is the same compromise, by the way, which the Mayor supports today -- two weeks later. It does get confusing.

Two weeks ago, I was prepared to hold my nose and vote for a compromise I didn't even like -- only to have the rug pulled out from under me with the Mayor's condemnation letter. But, in a way, it was great that day to be free to vote my conscience -- and my heart. To be liberated and have those votes be part of the public record. I voted for an elected Board and only an elected Board, in every configuration it came in. I voted to put only an elected School Board on the ballot and, when it failed, I voted against putting the two issues on the ballot -- one, because I like having elected board members and feared their elimination, and two, because I feared the division which would be caused by these extremely different approaches.

But today I am going to be political. I am going to be expedient. I'm compromising and I don't even mind, and here are the reasons:

Number 1. I never wanted the two extreme and divisive issues on the ballot in the first place and now I can eliminate that concern.

Number 2. I was afraid that after the divisive campaign was waged. with all the monied interests and free media on the side of the appointed Board, that the elected Board would fail and there would then be no elected positions on such an important policy-making Board. And the Washington Post poll published February 13 added to that fear by showing only 54% of our residents favored an elected Board, and that's before a nickel had been spent by the big guys and before being treated to daily editorials and columns in our two major newspapers in support of an appointed Board. I am sure glad we e won't have to live through that! And, with this proposal we ensure that the majority of the Board-- including its President -- will be elected. I feel it's a case of cutting your -- and the city's -- losses.

Number 3. I do not want the Financial Control Board or Congress deciding this matter for us.

Number 4. I'm sick of this issue taking up so much of our time and energy, since I have no confidence that any action we would take today would be the right one. Again, out of the frustration comes the desire to do something -- anything. Now we did something. Next discussion!

Number 5. I like the four-year sunset provision and fought for it. Because there is no empirical data on elected vs. appointed boards, and no real experience on hybrids, I like ensuring that the Mayor and the Council will re-examine this a few years down the road.

I could continue to be a demagogue, a gadfly or an obstructionist. I, too, can play these roles well -- but I am choosing to compromise.

Now colleagues, even those of you who have been insistent on having to do it only one or two ways, come on board -- compromise -- for the sake of unity. I'd like to say for the sake of our children, but I'm not sure about that and, in all honesty, nor are you with your preferences. I do hope we can unite with the Mayor and each other on this reasonable -- if not perfect -compromise.

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