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Back to public schools main pageTo statement of Andrew Brimmer on resignation

Resignation Statement by Bruce K. MacLaury,
Chairman, Emergency Transitional Education Board of Trustees
May 26, 1998




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Emergency Transitional Education Board of Trustees
415 12th Street. N.W., Suite 1107
Washington, D C. 20004-1994
202-724-5454, fax: 202-724-2120
For release 2 pm
Tuesday, May 26, 1998
Contact: Gloria Murry

Statement by Bruce K. MacLaury

Last Friday, May 22, I was informed by Dr. Brimmer, Chairman of the Control Board, that acting on behalf of the Board, he was requesting my resignation as Chairman of the Emergency Transitional Education Board of Trustees. By this announcement, I do so, effective today.

When the Control Board asked me to take on this responsibility a year and a half ago, I accepted because I believed that a temporary body with extraordinary powers might be able to lay the groundwork for radical improvement in the schools. In fact, a number of important changes have already occurred. Expectations for high academic standards have been spelled out; pernicious social promotion is being phased out; a start has been made on reducing the number of costly excess facilities and turning surplus properties into cash for school repairs; schools in use are finally getting structural improvements and attention to fire code violations; and there is now strong academic leadership for District schools in the person of Arlene Ackerman, the new Superintendent.

But more could have been accomplished had there been a greater sense of common purpose and fewer distractions. We lost ground in part because of our own decisions — among them, too long a delay in opening our working sessions to the public, thus encouraging needless suspicion rather than needed support. We pursued contentious school closings early in our term on the basis of inadequate counsel on academic matters. But we've also had to spend far too much of the past 18 months on litigation rather than learning, with court actions dominating school system decisions on facilities and special education. And the Board of Education’s continuing lawsuit has destabilized the relationship between the Control Board and the Trustees.

When an appellate court ruled in January that the Control Board had overstepped its legal bounds in creating a fully autonomous board of trustees to oversee the public schools, there emerged a strong consensus among the Trustees that a purely advisory role was out of the question. I went on record in a February 4 Washington Post article that “... hard experience told [the Trustees] that being handed the responsibility for fixing the schools while being denied the authority to make their decisions stick would be a prescription for disaster.”

Nevertheless, we were persuaded to accept what indeed turned out to be an advisory role. Although we have been formally designated the Control Board’s “agents,” our real authority has eroded, with critical decisions about the management of the schools being made without our consultation. Indeed, in the crucial negotiations concerning the schools’ budget for FY99, and in decisions on cutting FY98 expenditures to reduce the deficit, the Trustees have been excluded even as advisors.

Thus, I have mixed feelings about being removed as chair of the Emergency Trustees. I have a sense of relief in stepping down from a precarious position that has the appearance of responsibility but precious little authority. At the same time, I had hoped that we could have accomplished more.

The larger challenge for the Control Board, Congress, and most important, citizens of the District, can be summed up in two words: FIX ACCOUNTABILITY!

No school system can be accountable to parents and taxpayers unless it has information systems that can provide accurate, real-time data on finances, personnel, and student performance. DCPS needs these things fixed now, with no further delays while others debate how to fix citywide systems.

And no school administration can serve the children while answering to so many adults. The Control Board may appear to be in command of the schools, but so are the City Council, several committees of Congress, and an elected Board of Education seeking to resume power two years from now. The dysfunctional, overlapping governance of our schools must be clarified, perhaps through an empowered State Education Agency that could oversee all District schools, including public charters and those run by DCPS.

Mrs. Ackerman is laying out a good blueprint for reform. I hear very little disagreement around this town with the substance of what she proposes. The tough part will be getting it done. That will require putting aside turf battles and palace intrigues, and joining forces on behalf of the kids. They deserve no less.

So even though I am stepping down with some sense of relief, I do regret this forced “retirement.” I came into this mission because I had hoped we could improve the future of children in this city. From the beginning, I've been guided by the insight of Professor E.D. Hirsch, whose work demonstrates that general knowledge correlates with annual income regardless of racial or ethnic background. With Hirsch, I believe that acquisition of knowledge is “the new civil rights frontier.” Those who truly care about our children should have no other agenda.

I’ll end with a promise: While I must leave a position, I do not intend to abandon the mission.

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Background Information on Bruce K. MacLaury,
Chairman of the Emergency Transitional Education Board of Trustees

Bruce K. MacLaury served as President of the Brookings Institution, a nationally known public policy research organization, from 1977 to 1995. Upon his retirement, he was given the title President-Emeritus, and he continues his affiliation with Brookings as a guest scholar.

Prior to assuming the presidency at Brookings, Dr. MacLaury served as president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank. He previously was deputy undersecretary of the U.S. Treasury for monetary affairs, a post he held from 1969 until his appointment to the Federal Reserve in July 1971. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University.

His affiliations include membership on the boards of trustees of the National Council on Economic Education and the Committee for Economic Development. He and his wife live in Washington, D.C.

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