May 02, 2009

Local Politics Threaten DC Schools Ombuds

A dispute between District of Columbia politicians is threatening to draw in the recently created public schools Ombuds. Local observers believe that a disagreement between Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and the District Council is affecting the approval of the mayor’s budget. Among other cuts, the Council is considering an 80% reduction in the budget for the office of Deputy Mayor for Education, which would be accomplished by transferring away several areas of responsibility, including moving the public schools Ombudsman to the State Board of Education’s purview. Thursday night, several school officials slated to appear at a community forum hosted by a Council member withdrew at the last minute with no explanation leading some to speculate that Mayor Fenty blocked their attendance. Interim DCPS Ombuds Jeff Ross did appear as promised. (Washington City Paper, City Desk Blog for April 27 and May 1; Washington Post DC Wire.)

This is a terrible situation for the Interim Ombuds. It's hard enough maintaining actual and perceived independence and neutrality within your organization without adding local politics. Surely, the DCPS Ombuds is not being paid enough to worry about becoming a pawn in the fight between the Mayor and District Council. The District already lost its first Ombuds and is looking for the permanent replacement. If the situation does not improve, qualified applicants may be discouraged. There is a real danger here that the office will be irreparably weakened (and the benefit to the school community lost) if cooler heads do not prevail.

Related posts: DC Schools Ombuds Lasts Just 14 Months; DC Schools Appoints Interim Ombuds.

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