DN Editorial: As school opens, now what?

Posted: September 02, 2011

AS TUESDAY opens another school year, it's clear this won't be just another school year.

Let's hope that the kids don't notice.

Unfortunately, it's the acting-out adults who remain at the center of the school district's major dramas, which include the departure of Arlene Ackerman, the controversial buyout of her contract, the remaining budget problems, and the questions surrounding the governance of the schools.

And even though Ackerman is out and Leroy Nunery will be greeting students at the classroom doors as acting superintendent, the school drama is not likely to die down.

For example, on Wednesday, state Sen. Mike Stack was joined by colleagues who are pushing a proposal to dissolve the School Reform Commission and replace it with an elected board.

We doubt that his will be the last rush to get to the microphones with announcements of changes and "improvements."

It's time for a month or two of inaction.

We don't mean indifference. But it's far too early to take action on either the SRC question or the superintendent question. As we already pointed out (We Vote No, Aug. 29), an elected board poses just as many protential problems as an appointed one.

The race to replace one kind of board with another isn't the answer, especially since no members of the public have been asked what they think of the idea. The kind of board overseeing the schools deserves long and robust debate.

Before they rethink the schools, we urge lawmakers to rethink their own process of introducing legislation before a range of ideas and proposals have been aired. In fact, the current process is backasswards: a bill gets introduced, and winds its way through a legislative process that at some point includes public hearings. The bill sometimes gets revised before it dies or becomes law. But by the time those hearings happen, they are no longer a chance to explore of a range of viable alternatives. Instead, they become a defensive exchange where a lawmaker must defend his or her bill and the public must prove or disprove its relevance.

Would it be so hard to hold hearings before drafting a bill?

Racing to fill a permanent superintendent slot is also a bad idea -especially with the larger governance issue unresolved. Not only do we need to figure out what we expect from a superintendent, but also which aspects of Ackerman's academic vision are worth retaining or building on. The danger with Ackerman's contentious departure is in giving in to the impulse to eliminate all traces of her, including programs that may be worth saving or building.

Lawmakers and education leaders need to work harder to make sure that the public is at the front and center of these discussions. They may be surprised: they may find that the public may actually have ideas worth hearing.

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