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Executive Office of the Mayor
“A Rationale for School Governance Reform”
October 27, 2003




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[This paper was developed by the Executive Office of the Mayor and shared with councilmembers by the mayor in a private meeting at which the mayor lobbied for support for his plan to abolish the elected Board of Education.]

A Rationale for School Governance Reform


  • In the District, the Mayor has a limited role in the management of the education system. Currently, the Mayor appoints four members of the nine-member school board, which is responsible-for setting education policy and for hiring a Superintendent to oversee the operations of the DC public schools. In addition, the Mayor directly oversees the State Education Office, which informs education policy, collects data, and performs several other state-level functions.
  • Despite some progress under the new leadership structure there are still management and performance deficiencies within DCPS. Moreover state level functions continue to be fragmented between DCPS, chartering authorities and the State Education Office (SEO)
  • Since 1991, mayors in at least six major cities have been granted increased authority over public education, and now appoint their local school boards and/or superintendents. Mayoral control can ultimately have a positive impact on local schools, but researchers have found that several variables affect the success of these reforms:

Changing governance arrangements clearly can make a difference in the way urban public school systems function, but such a strategy requires the right combination of ingredients-committed and skilled leadership by the mayor, willingness to use scarce resources, a stable coalition of supports, appropriate education policies, and a cadre of competent, committed professionals to implement the reforms.1

The School Governance Amendment Act of 2000 (DC Law 13-159; D.C. Official Code §1-204-95)

The current elected/appointed composition of the Board of Education (Board) established in the. School Governance Charter Amendment Act of 2000 (Governance Act) will sunset on June 27, 2004

The Governance Act provides that as of June 27, 2004 there shall be a Board of Education which shall be comprise of and selected in such manner and for such terms as shall be provided by District law pursuant to the title. Therefore, Council may enact any change to the Board's structure and composition, but cannot dissolve the Board in local law.

In addition, the Governance Act requires that the there shall be Superintendent of public schools who shall be appointed by the Board. Thus a change in the appointment of the Superintendent could not be enacted in local law.

A Mayor's Vision

  • Mayor Williams envisions a District of Columbia where every child, regardless of the school they attend, has access to a high quality education in a healthy and safe environment.
  • Since becoming Mayor, Williams has worked with the District Council to increase funding for public education by over 40 percent. Despite continued investment however, academic improvement has only slightly increased
  • The Mayor and Council have continued to advocate for stronger fiscal management of public education resources (i.e. performance based budgeting, line-item budget authority, etc,). However, if granted greater control over schools, there are a number of programmatic and operational reforms that the Mayor and Council could jointly implement. These include but are not limited to:
  1. Expand school choice options across the District by increasing specialized and magnet programs, replicating the Oyster and Ellington models; encouraging more quality charter schools, etc;
  2. Promote local school autonomy and streamline central administration by offering high performing instructional leaders who consistently demonstrate excellence independence from central bureaucracy. This initiative, which is aligned with recent legislation introduced by Councilmember Chavous, would also allow central administration to provide greater support to low-performing schools and to schools in transition to self-sufficiency;
  3. Develop an accelerated facilities right-sizing program aimed at sharply reducing surplus and under-utilized facilities, and co-locating public charter schools and social services;
  4. Develop clear, uniform standards for early childhood education and fully-fund early childhood education beginning at pre-K;
  5. Implement statewide K-12 curriculum standards for which all schools (public, charter, and private) will be held accountability;
  6. Move toward full day (7am-6pm) extended year (210 days) educational programs for all children, integrating out of school time programs with the school day and extended year;
  7. Implement the District's Special Education Reform Plan on an accelerated schedule;
  8. Reestablish vocational education programs to ensure that students who wish to pursue employment in specific industries are adequately prepared for entry into the workforce;
  9. Promote high-school reform centered. School districts across the country are moving towards breaking up large high schools and creating smaller "academies" within existing buildings. These "schools-within-schools" have more manageable student populations and foster better teaching and learning experiences;
  10. Develop a zero-based budgeting process for all public schools to align operating and capital spending with mission, education priorities and focus on student academic achievement. The budget process would include adjusting funding to ensure an appropriate student-teacher ratio system wide and would align the capital budget with current and projected student populations and facilities needs. The budget would also clearly delineate state and district-level expenses;
  11. Include pay-for-performance as criteria of collective bargain agreements to ensure that the District retains high quality teachers and personnel; and.
  12. Develop funding priorities for private and philanthropic investment centered around clearly articulated district wide education priorities.

Critical Next Steps (Draft Timeline for Action)

Oct-Nov 2003 Mayor and Council to Develop Consensus on School Governance Reform Proposal

Nov-Dec 2003 Launch public engagement campaign regarding proposals

Dec 2003-Jan 2004 Introduce local legislation regarding school governance

Jan-Feb 2004 Council to hold public hearings

Feb-Jun 2004 Pass local legislation and transmit to Congress for approval (requires affirmative approval for charter amendment; passive approval for local law)

Jul-Aug 2004 Petitions must be filed for 2004 Board of Education elections (under hybrid or elected structure)
                      New Governance Structure takes effect

Executive Office of the Mayor 
Office of Policy and Legislative Affairs
October 27, 2003

1. Cibulka, J. "Old Wine, Now Bottles." Education Next, 1 (4), 28-35, 2002. 

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School Governance Options

Governance Options Legislative Vehicle Policy and Operational Considerations
1. Status Quo (hybrid)
  • This option would retain the current structure (elected/appointed) and authority of Board of Education (Board)
  • The Board would continue to govern DCPS, appoint the Superintendent; carry out state-level functions for all public, and serves as a chartering authority for public charter schools
Local Law
  • This structure does not ensure the Mayor and Council increased financial accountability over the schools.
  • If this option is selected the Mayor and Council may want to explore further accountability measures such as line item budget authority, restructuring public education funding mechanisms, and other budget and financial controls. 
2. All Elected Board
  • Under this option Board members would be elected by the citizens. The Mayor and Council would have to decide on the number of Board members (the previous Board had elected (11) members)
  • The Board would continue to government DCPS, appoint the Superintendent, carry out state-level functions for all publics, and serves as a chartering authority for public charter schools.
Local Law
  • This structure has the greatest potential to further diffuse accountability - more elected officials would be involved in education decision-making. Under this scenario the Mayor and council would be farther removed from implementing reform measures and enforcing fiscal management. 
  • If the all-elected board option is selected the Mayor and Council should explore limiting the number of members.
  • Legislation must be introduced in sufficient time to allow for ballot petitions to be filed and elections held.
3. All Appointed Board (with terms)
  • Under this option the Mayor would appoint all members of the Board (subject to confirmation by the Council). Members would serve terms as specified in law.
  • The Board would continue to government DCPS, appoint the Superintendent, carry out state-level functions for all publics, and serves as a chartering authority for public charter schools.
Local Law
  • By selecting its membership the Mayor would have greater influence over the Board than he currently has (as would the Council by virtue of its authority to confirm appointments).
  • However, this option does not give the Mayor and Council any direct influence over the hiring of the superintendent.
  • If this option is selected the Mayor and Council may want to explore further accountability measures such as line-item budget authority, restructuring public education funding mechanisms, and other budget and financial controls. 
4. All Appointed Board (at will)
  • Under this option the Mayor would appoint all members of the Board (subject to confirmation by the Council) who would serve at-will.
  • The Board would continue to govern DCPS, appoint the Superintendent, carry out state-level functions for all publics, and serves as a chartering authority for public charter
Local Law
  • This structure is similar to the option listed above, but it would give the Mayor more control over the Board.
  • Because members would serve at-will, the Mayor would have greater influence over them, and would effectively have de facto control over the appointment of the Superintendent.
  • This option may better allow the Mayor to implement fiscal and management reforms. 
5. Restructure Board Authority (hybrid, elected, appointed)
Under any of the above scenarios, the Mayor and Council could consider the following options:
  • Transfer state-level functions from Board to State Education Office
Local Law -
Student Funding Formula
  • This option would address concerns about the Board's ability to effectively monitor itself as a LEA and to impartially provide services, oversight and monitoring for other LEA's (i.e. charter and private schools).
  • To the extent that the Home Rule Charter is silent on state-level functions this would not require a charter amendment. However, it would require dialogue with the Department of Education which currently recognizes DCPS as the state education agency for the purposes of federal grant funding.
  • This option would also require a restructuring of the current functions of the State Education Office
  • Remove chartering authority - all charters would be approved and monitored by the DC Public Charter School Board (DCPCSB)
Local Law - School Reform Act
  • This option would address concerns about the Board's ability to adequately focus on charter schools given that magnitude of issues affecting DCPS.
  • It would also streamline the charter application process and standardized the monitoring of charter schools.
  • Under this option, existing Board of Education charter schools would have to be grandfathered under the control of the DC public Charter School Board. When their existing charters expire schools would be require to reapply under the new Board.
  • Fiscal autonomy for DCPS - to include independent taxing authority, establishing a separate revenue stream within the general fund, or other such financial mechanisms
Home Rule Charter; Local Law
  • The option has significant fiscal and political implications for both District and for DCPS specifically (cite examples).
  • The greatest challenge would be with Congress which has historically been reluctant to grant greater fiscal autonomy.
6. DCPS as Executive Agency
  • Under this option the Mayor would assume management of DCPS, similar to his authority over District agencies currently under his purview. This option would also expand Council's oversight of DCPS.
  • The Mayor would appoint the DCPS Superintendent who, would serve as a cabinet director
  • Mayor could establish an advisory board to help establish education policies
Home Rule Charter
  • The School Governance Charter Amendment Act allows the Mayor and Council to change the composition of the board and the manner in which board members are selected; however it clearly states that there shall be a Board of Education.
  • Dissolving the Board would require a charter amendment (either through as a direct request from the Mayor and Council or through a referendum initiative) transferring all existing powers to the Executive Branch. In addition, any provisions regarding Board authority that are currently in local law would have to be amended. 
  • To the extent that Congress must affirmatively approve charter amendments, the timing of this proposal must be aligned with the Congressional calendar.
  • Based on initial discussions with Congressional staff, Congress does not anticipate a legislative vehicle through which to act on the District's behalf until the middle of 2004.
  • If this option is selected, the Mayor and Council might also consider transferring state level activities to a restructured SEO, and establishing a commission to help oversee the establishment of new administrative policies and procedures.

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