SubmitIn 2007, the Council of the District of Columbia, along with the mayor, the United States Congress and the president, amended the city’s home rule charter. The motivation for doing so was to eliminate the elected school board and give direct control of the District of Columbia Public Schools to the mayor. Features were written into the law to ensure a participatory role for stakeholders in the running of the schools. One such provision in the Public Education Reform Amendment Act (PERAA) of 2007 was the process by which the DCPS chancellor was to be selected. The governing legislation states that“….(b)(1) Prior to the selection of a nominee for Chancellor, the Mayor shall: (A) Establish a review panel of teachers, including representatives of the Washington Teachers’ Union, parents, and students (“panel”) to aid the Mayor in his or her selection of Chancellor; (B) Provide the resumes and other pertinent information pertaining to the individuals under consideration, if any, to the panel; and (C) Convene a meeting of the panel to hear the opinions and recommendations of the panel. (2) The Mayor shall consider the opinions and recommendations of the panel in making his or her nomination and shall give great weight to any recommendation of the Washington Teachers Union…” Almost immediately after passage, features of PERAA have been treated by the executive as if they were optional, instead of mandatory, and the Council has approved the Mayor’s nominations, notwithstanding the Mayor’s violation of the legally required process. When former Mayor Adrian Fenty chose Michelle Rhee to be his school’s chancellor, he ignored every aspect of the process delineated in PERAA in making the selection. In 2011, former Mayor Vincent Gray, selected Kaya Henderson to be chancellor and, again, ignored the legally-mandated process for making the selection. And, again, the council placed its imprimatur on a choice that completely disregarded the law. As the city prepares to select the third chancellor since the passage of PERAA, another mayor, this time Muriel Bowser, is again treating the stakeholders’ role with disdain by announcing her choice of Oakland Public Schools Superintendent Antwan Wilson to lead DCPS. Mayor Bowser has not followed neither the letter nor spirit of the law in selecting Antwan Wilson. Prior to the selection of Mr. Wilson, Mayor Bowser did not provide resumes and other pertinent information about candidates being considered to the panel created to give opinions and recommendations about the selection. She did not meet with the advisory panel to hear opinions and recommendations about those under consideration for the position as chancellor. Nor did she give great weight to the recommendations of the Washington Teacher’s Union, as required under PERAA. In fact, she made it impossible for WTU to give any recommendations to her on the “individuals under consideration” because she refused to provide WTU representatives or other members of the advisory panel the resumes of any of the candidates under consideration. While Superintendent Wilson may have the qualifications and temperament to run DCPS, this is not the purpose of my letter. Should Mr. Wilson ultimately be approved by city council for the position as chancellor, the Washington Teacher’s Union will work with him enthusiastically and with a sense of partnership on behalf of all DC public school children. However, before that relationship can be initiated, Mayor Bowser should follow the legally-mandated process for choosing a chancellor. Although compliance at this stage of the process would be retroactive, the Washington Teachers’ Union recommends that prior to acting on Wilson’s nomination, city council should pass a Resolution finding that Mayor Bowser violated the PERAA and must in future adhere to all of its provisions, including distributing resumes of all candidates considered and personally meeting with the advisory panel to hear its recommendation for a candidate and those of the WTU prior to the Mayor’s selection of a nominee. This Resolution would be, in effect, a public censure of the Mayor and is a well-recognized form of legislative action for expressing a legislature’s strongly held position. It would preserve WTU’s objection and enable the Council to publicly assert the need for executive compliance with the selection law. During the nearly decade-long existence of PERRA the council has allowed the executive to ignore many of its requirements. It is time for such thin oversight to end. The Council has a responsibility to ensure the Mayor is accountable to its laws, especially as to such an important matter involving such a crucial executive-branch agency as DCPS. Our members and allies ask that you honor the letter and spirit of PERAA and protect the rights it gives stakeholders to comment on the individuals the Mayor was considering for crucial choice of chancellor before the Mayor has made his/her final selection. Elizabeth Davis is author and President of the Washington Teachers’ Union

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