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New Rules Would Prevent Boards From Hiring DOD School Chiefs

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Washington

School boards governing domestic schools operated by the Department of Defense would be prevented from having the final say on hiring superintendents under proposed new rules clarifying the status of the boards.

Under the new policy, which was published in the Jan. 4 issue of the Federal Register, only the Defense Department's director of domestic dependent elementary and secondary schools would have the authority to hire superintendents. The director, currently Hector O. Nevarez, would select from a list of candidates submitted by a school's board, which would also make a recommendation.

The proposed rule, intended to clarify the role of such school boards, also officially declares that they cannot make final budget and financial decisions. Those, too, would ultimately be handled by Mr. Nevarez, although the boards would participate in budgeting.

Mr. Nevarez said the civilians who make up the elected boards are legally unable to commit the U.S. military to personnel or financial decisions.

"What this does is for the first time put [school board responsibilities] into an instruction," Mr. Nevarez said in an interview.

Comments on the regulations are due March 4.

Confusion Over Authority

The rule aims to put to rest confusion over the role of school boards for the schools the Defense Department operates on 16 military installations in 11 states. The schools educate about 3,100 students, who are dependents of military and civilian Defense Department employees. The department also operates 172 such schools in foreign countries; those schools have no school boards.

The domestic schools were administered by the U.S. Office of Education until 1981, when they were transferred to the DOD.

"Gradually, we have been evolving in getting the system together," Mr. Nevarez said.

In the past, some boards presumed they had the authority to hire and fire superintendents and to make financial decisions for the DOD schools, according to Thomas J. Silvester, the superintendent of the Fort Jackson schools near Columbia, S.C., who is the president of the Association of Department of Defense Elementary and Secondary Schools Superintendents.

That resulted from "comparability" language in a law authorizing operation of the schools, which called for the school boards to operate in ways similar to other public school boards, he said.

One board even challenged the DOD's authority over the schools, Mr. Nevarez said, but the department's general counsel declared that hiring and budget decisions are not under the boards' purview.

Joseph Guiendon, the superintendent of schools at Robins Air Force Base near Macon, Ga., said the new rules would not affect the operation of the schools there, as the school board will continue to make decisions on such issues as curriculum, dress codes, and school hours.

"This in my mind is a way DOD is trying to use the input of the school board, but within the guidelines of federal regulations," he said. "The main gist is, the powers they're taking away the school boards never had in the first place."

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