DARRELL CLARKE keeps asking William Hite to give him something Hite can't deliver.
Every couple of months, the Council president sends up a rocket - usually in the form of a letter or a public statement - telling the schools superintendent how unhappy he is with one thing or the other about the district's spending.
Last week, it was the district's hiring of six new upper-level administrators to oversee management reforms Hite is putting into place.
In effect, Clarke said: Council gave you $100 million (actually, it was $70 million) based on your promise to use the money to improve education for the kids. Why are you wasting it on expensive managers?
Clarke also reminded Hite that Council, in its wisdom, didn't give the district all the $70 million, but held on $25 million to use as hostage - though no one uses that word - to make sure the district responds to Council's needs.
Hite's detailed response to Clarke's 1 1/2-page letter explained that the district was putting money back into the schools, including restoring 800 positions cut during an earlier round of budget cutting.
He also noted that only three percent of the district's $2.7 billion budget is being spent on administrative costs - lower than all comparable urban school districts and lower than in the past.
People always used to complain about the district's smothering bureaucracy. No more. The SRC had eliminated hundreds of management jobs. Any who walks around the district's headquarters at 440 North Broad St. will discover it is half empty.
Hite always responds to Clarke's criticisms in a respectful tone and with a barrage of facts.
The superintendent is laboring under the illusion that the facts matter. They do not. The source of Clarke's anger isn't really over any particulars of district spending, it is over the fact that Council lacks control over how the money is spent.
He wants more control. And Hite can't give it to him. He can't give it to him because he doesn't have it. That power belongs to the state, which still provides the bulk of the district's financial support and actually runs the district through the School Reform Commission. The mayor gets two appointees to the five-member SRC, but neither the mayor nor Council has direct control over the district.
Council might have more control if, say, the state abolished the SRC and either created either an elected or mayor-appointed school board or, even more dramatically, made the district a department within city government. None of that seems likely as of now.
So, Clarke's anger is misdirected. He is using Hite as a whipping boy for his deeper frustrations over control of the district.
Let's take it a step further: Do we want Clarke and Council to have more say over the running of the district? Do we want them to have the right to give final approval on contracts or personnel decisions? Would the district be better off today had Council been in charge during its years of financial distress?
We can answer that last question: We would be in worse shape because Council would have run away from the tough decisions Hite and district leadership had to make, including closing schools and laying off thousands of workers. And that means it would have had to pony up even more city money to fill even bigger holes in the district's budget, which would mean much higher taxes.
Our advice to the Council president: Feel free to vent your frustration, but be careful what you ask for - because you might just get it.