Two Reports Assail Past Management of D.C. Schools

By Lynn Olson — February 26, 1992 4 min read

WASHINGTON Two reports that lambaste past management of the District of Columbia schools have cast a shadow on the school system’s request for more money and prompted local lawmakers to consider taking greater control of its finances.

At a press conference last week, Superintendent of Schools Franklin L. Smith and R. David Hall, the school-board president, tried to downplay the damage done when one of the reports was leaked to a local television station while beard members and the superintendent were away at a planning retreat.

“1 am deeply disappointed that some employees in our school system, some members of the media, and some elected officials would try to use the findings of this audit as a weapon against us,” said Mr. Hall. “The effect of this audit has been to make the beard more determined than ever to support the superintendent’s efforts to bring about total reform in our school system.”

The report, a 222-page curriculum audit conducted in October by the American Association of School Administrators at the request of Mr. Smith, concludes that the school system is “unstable and mismanaged.”

Among other problems, it cites poor curriculum planning; “ghost” employees who continued to be paid without having been assigned official duties; “grossly inflated” teacher evaluations; low student performance; and uninspired and rote classroom teaching.

‘Worsen a Bad Situation’

The audit’s findings were revealed five days after the release of another, highly critical report by the D.C. Committee on Public Education, a group of civic leaders.

That panel concluded that there had been little movement to improve the district’s instructional program or reduce the size of its bureaucracy between 1989, when the group’s original report was released, and June 1991, when Mr. Smith took office.

Following release of the reports, Harold Brazil, a member of the District of Columbia city council, called for a special heating to examine the school district’s spending. And Councilman William P. Lightfoot said he may consider introducing legislation that would give lawmakers line-item veto power over the school budget.

Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly previously said that she opposed the school beard’s request for an 8 percent budget increase in fiscal 1993. She also has proposed slicing up to $10 million from the schools’ base budget for fiscal 1992, and has asked the school system to absorb the cost of any salary increases for teachers and principals.

“I fear it’s going to worsen an already bad situation,” said Jim Ford, the staff director for the city council’s education committee, about the reports. “It is going to make it very difficult for the council to restore much of the Mayors proposed rescissions.”

During the press conference, Mr. Smith tried to differentiate between the reports’ findings and the changes that have occurred since he took office.

The curriculum audit took place only three months after he had been on the job; the COPE report covered the tenures of his predecessors.

The superintendent pledged to release a report within the next month detailing what has been accomplished during his tenure.

‘Grade Inflation’

He also challenged some of the audit’s findings, arguing, for example, that the school system can trace where every one of its employees is working.

Questions about the exact size of the system’s workforce have arisen frequently in recent years. (See Education Week, Nov. 20, 1991.)

The curriculum audit found what were said to be gross inequities among schools in the quality of their facilities, the size of staffs, and the diversity of curriculum offerings.

It also found that the district’s teacher-evaluation system suffered from “grade inflation” and was not carried out properly. In 1990-91, less than 0.5 percent of those evaluated received ratings of “conditional” or “unsatisfactory"; the rest were rated “outstanding” Or “Very good.”

In contrast, the report says, in districts that “Hold high standards and conduct rigorous evaluations,” between 5 percent and 20 percent of teachers commonly receive below standard or unsatisfactory ratings.

Charges of Nepotism

The report also accuses board members of engaging in nepotism in hiring and of excessive interference in the management of the schools. It also suggests that the size of board salaries and the size of its staff contributed to the schools’ financial woes.

“What we want to see is for the superintendent simply to embrace these criticisms,” said Mary Levy, the legal counsel for Parents United, a local advocacy group. “If it hurts them budgetarily, what is just tragic is that it is going to hit the kids and the teachers and the ordinary employees.”

Conrad Snowden, the executive director of COPE, said Mr. Smith “is moving in the right direction.”

He expressed hope that the negative publicity would lead reluctant school administrators to get behind the superintendent’s leadership.

A version of this article appeared in the February 26, 1992 edition of Education Week as Two Reports Assail Past Management of D.C. Schools