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Published in Print: March 5, 2003, as Mayoral Appointees Quit School Board in D.C.

Mayoral Appointees Quit School Board in D.C.

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Two members of the District of Columbia school board, both distinguished scholars, have announced their resignations from their appointed positions in frustration.

Charles R. Lawrence III

Charles R. Lawrence III and Roger Wilkins released statements last month saying that they would no longer serve on the board because they had not heard from Mayor Anthony A. Williams of Washington about their appointments. Their two-year terms expired on Dec. 31.

The two men were among the first to serve on the city's new hybrid board of education, approved by District of Columbia voters in 2000. The board's size was reduced from 11 elected members to nine members, four of whom are appointed by the mayor and five of whom are elected. The appointed and elected terms were staggered.

Roger Wilkins

Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Wilkins were given two-year appointments, while the mayor's other two appointees were to serve for four years.

Mayor Williams, a Democrat, campaigned heavily for the measure, which supporters hoped would result in a more unified school board. The previous board was stripped of most of its powers by a financial-control board that was created by Congress in 1996 to run the city government. ("New D.C. Chief Will Face Revised Board Structure," July 12, 2000.)

The reconstituted school board regained full control of the 71,000-student school system when the new members took office in 2001.

"During the month of January, I repeatedly and unsuccessfully sought to meet with the mayor to discuss my possible reappointment, and it became apparent that, for whatever reason, the decision to forgo discussions with me was deliberate," Mr. Lawrence, a law professor at Georgetown University in Washington, said in a written statement stepping down from the board.

'Month of Silence'

In his letter to the mayor, Mr. Wilkins, a prominent civil rights activist and a professor of history and American culture at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., said: "In the month of silence since I sent word to you about some concerns I had about reappointment issues, I have taken the opportunity to reflect on where I am in my life; my most pressing concerns and my deepest interests.

"As a result, I have concluded that it is time to return to my basics: teaching, civil rights work, and writing."

Mr. Wilkins, who declined to comment further, attended his last meeting as a board member on Feb. 19. Mr. Lawrence, who could not be reached for comment, is expected to step down this month.

Both men expressed their support for Mayor Williams and for efforts to improve public schools in the nation's capital. In January, during his inaugural address, the mayor said education would be one of the priorities of his second term in office.

"I have a daughter and a son in the D.C. public schools," Mr. Lawrence wrote. "As a parent and a citizen, I have no intention of relinquishing the role of advocate for public education."

Tony Bullock, a spokesman for Mayor Williams, said the resignations were the unfortunate result of a lack of understanding about the city's reappointment process.

Acknowledging that it might not be a "model process," Mr. Bullock said that once an appointment expires, the mayor has up to six months to reappoint or replace individuals.

"These are two very distinguished men, and the mayor thinks very highly of them," Mr. Bullock said. "He was not trying to give wrong signals to them."

The mayor likely would have reappointed both Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Wilkins, the spokesman said, but Mr. Williams never had a chance to speak with them. From the inauguration in January to the heightened terrorism alert in February, Mr. Bullock said, the mayor has been preoccupied with many demands.

It was unclear whether the two men wanted to remain on the board, Mr. Bullock said, adding that he had learned that Mr. Wilkins had declared that if Mr. Lawrence did not return to the board, then he would step down as well.

Mayor Williams will select new members for the board as soon as possible, his spokesman said. The school board is not making the kinds of sweeping changes the mayor would like to see, he noted.

Vol. 22, Issue 25, Page 5

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