Saturday, September 01, 2007

They're Back!

The Richmond 26 are back in the news. Since their first call for replacing Richmond’s elected school board with an appointed one met with such overwhelming approval by. . . well, I guess by Mayor Wilder, they repeated it again in a 17 page paper delivered to the City Council and the mayor. Of course, our School Board, charged by law with supervising the schools in Richmond did not receive a copy of the missive. Nor, for that matter, did this maven. Thus, on this matter, just like Will Rogers, I only know what I read in the papers.

Since nobody in Richmond took seriously their proposal to bypass the people in doing away with our elected school board, Richmond’s finest indicated that they were willing to wait for a public referendum on the issue. Of course, by making this concession, the 26 risked that the public might vote to keep the elected board. But, hell, that is the risk of democracy.

As in their first letter, our business elite opined that getting rid of the elected school board is all it would take to fix Richmond Public Schools. The division of authority between the City Council and the School Board guarantees that Richmond schools will fail, assert the 26, although they fail to explain why this same division is working fine in most other school districts in the Commonwealth. As stated in the paper, “This mishmash of accountability violates every tenet of managerial structural efficiency and accountability—and is doomed to failure.”

Of course, I am not a business mogul. I am a mere maven. But, I’m not sure what the mishmash problem is. Our School Board gets funds from federal, state and city sources. It uses this money to operate our public schools. If the board does a bad job managing the money, we, the citizens of Richmond, will hold them accountable at the next election.

Perhaps, the 26 really object to the Constitution of Virginia, which requires that school systems be run by school boards rather than by the legislative authority in each district. The “managerial structural efficiency” they desire would be best served by eliminating school boards entirely and simply having the schools run by city councils or county boards of supervisors. After all, we don’t have police department run by police boards, fire departments run by fire boards, or sanitation departments run by garbage boards. In requiring school boards, our constitution recognizes that education is the most important service provided by government and that a separate body, charged only with running the schools, is necessary. It’s sloppy, perhaps even a mishmash, but that’s the way it works throughout the Commonwealth and the country.

In their epistle, the Richmond 26 set forth ten goals for Richmond Public Schools, which, presumably, an appointed school board will be able to achieve. According to the TD, the goals are

1- a graduation rate of 77 percent by 2012;
2- a rate of 50 percent of entering ninth graders attending two or four year colleges four years from now;
3- increasing average SAT scores, and increasing participation to 60 percent by 2012;
4- improving SOL scores in reading and math, especially in middle school;
5- make Adequate Yearly Progress this year, under the No Child Left Behind law;
6- cut truancy in half by next year;
7- reduce by half the number of weapons-related incidents by 2010;
8- put 50 percent of technology resources into classrooms by 2010;
9- initiate the facilities plan portion of the mayor’s City of the Future plan; and
10- reduce noninstructional per-pupil spending by 2012.

Although these suggested goals are helpful, they don’t tell us how to get closer to fixing our school problems. Not all of them, as written, contain adequate measures of compliance. Further, the 26 have no suggestions on how these goals might be met.

As you know, this maven set forth a five step plan for fixing our schools two weeks ago. And, just this week, Paul Goldman, the man that gave us Doug Wilder, set forth a ten step proposal for improving our schools. See his blog on Channel 12’s Campaign 2008 website.,com_myblog/show,School-Board-Improvements-10-Point-Action-Plan.html/Itemid,130/

Hopefully, more citizens will come forward with their suggestions for fixing our schools. Again, my thanks to the Richmond 26 for bringing the issue of Richmond Public Schools to public debate.

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