- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 3, 2004

Mayor Anthony A. Williams has proposed the creation of an elected eight-member State Board of Education that would oversee policy and rule-making issues as part of his plan to take over the public schools.

Under a revised proposal the Democratic mayor sent to the D.C. Council this week, power over the school system’s curriculum, operations, budget and personnel would still be transferred to the mayor.

But Mr. Williams is now also calling for an all-elected state school board whose members — one from each ward — would earn $30,000 per year, or twice as much as school board members now earn.

D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, yesterday criticized the proposal to increase salaries of board members.

“The mayor is saying, ‘Let’s increase the salaries of these people who would now have less power,’” Mr. Mendelson said. “I don’t think that makes sense.”

Tony Bullock, spokesman for Mr. Williams, said the proposed salary can still change.

“The salary was something that was discussed and agreed to, but it can still always be amended by the council if they want to do that,” Mr. Bullock said yesterday. “It’s not something that’s set in stone.”

Council members could vote as early as next week on whether to try to override the mayor’s veto or else consider Mr. Williams’ latest school-takeover plan.

A previous takeover proposal by Mr. Williams failed to win the support of the council. It voted 7-6 last month on a bill that essentially keeps the current system of school governance in place during the transition from the current hybrid board of five elected and four appointed members to an all-elected board. Mr. Williams vetoed the council’s plan last week.

In his veto letter to council, Mr. Williams said he disagreed with continuing the current system of school governance because “no one is ultimately accountable to the citizens for educational outcomes.”

He said school board oversight of city schools includes a history “of fiscal mismanagement, micromanagement of the superintendent’s operational authority and a lack of urgency regarding educational reform.”

“We don’t want this to languish much longer because this does have an unsettling effect on other school business,” Mr. Bullock said of the school governance legislation.

Council members have complained that the debate about who should control city schools is impairing the effort to find a superintendent to replace Paul L. Vance, who retired in November.

Top candidate Rudolph F. Crew, former chancellor of New York City schools, opted out of contention for the D.C. job amid the ongoing governance debate last month, choosing instead to take a job running the Miami-Dade school district in Florida.

Mr. Mendelson called the mayor’s latest plan confusing. He said it reads as if Mr. Williams wants to have two separate school boards — the current one as well creating a new state board.

“It’s getting away from the mayor’s preaching about clear lines of accountability and it creates an enormously unstable environment for the school system in the short term,” Mr. Mendelson said.

He sent a memo to council members criticizing Mr. Williams’ latest proposal, saying: “The mayor’s proposal does not simplify accountability over public education. He would have two elected boards, and remove the statewide setting of standards from his control. …”

Mr. Bullock disputed that the revised legislation calls for two school boards. He said the mayor’s proposal seeks to create a single state board whose members would issue rules to enforce school attendance requirements and set performance standards for students, schools, teachers and principals.

“It does not do that and it never did do that,” Mr. Bullock said, referring to Mr. Mendelson’s memo on the creation of two school boards. “If you look at the legislative intent, the purpose of the bill is to transition from a hybrid board to the state board.”

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