- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 18, 2004

A sharply divided D.C. Council yesterday voted for the eventual change of the D.C. school board to an all-elected body, but Mayor Anthony A. Williams is expected to veto the bill.

The 7-6 vote calls for changing the current hybrid school board consisting of four members appointed by the mayor and five elected to an entirely elected board by 2007.

“We’ve been there and done that. It hasn’t worked, and the hybrid system isn’t working much better,” Tony Bullock, spokesman for Mr. Williams, said yesterday of the return to an all-elected board.

Council members who voted in favor of the plan say it will bring much-needed stability to a struggling school system that has seen too many changes in governance and leadership over the years.

Mr. Bullock said the mayor will likely veto the legislation, sponsored by D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat, in hopes the council will pass a revised proposal transferring power of the schools to the mayor and council.

“We’re confident that the council is moving toward the governance competent for control over the school system,” he said.

Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, a Democrat; Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat; Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat; Kathleen Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat; and Sandra Allen, Ward 8 Democrat, joined Mr. Chavous and council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, in supporting the bill.

The vote came during a debate among council members about whether to give city government control of the schools or leave power in the hands of the school board.

Mr. Williams favors a takeover that would allow him to appoint and fire a schools chancellor, but the council defeated that measure last month.

“What the school system needs is a complete overhaul. It needs a superintendent who knows that he or she reports to the mayor and the council,” Mr. Bullock said.

Mrs. Schwartz said transferring power over the school system to city government isn’t the solution.

“I don’t believe the answer is handing the school system to the mayor,” she said.

She also criticized Mr. Williams’ decision to attend a weekend conference in Italy on the needs of children in conflict areas while a top candidate for the superintendent’s position, former New York City schools Chancellor Rudolph F. Crew, visited with District officials.

Mr. Crew accepted the superintendent’s position for Miami schools.

“I think the mayor could have made a difference,” Mrs. Schwartz said.

Mr. Bullock said the mayor spoke to Mr. Crew on Friday before leaving for the conference and provided information on how he could be contacted.

“This is a purposeful campaign on the part of some people to suggest that Mr. Crew decided to go to Miami because he couldn’t get the mayor on the phone, and it’s insulting,” Mr. Bullock said.

“The mayor gave Mr. Crew specific and clear instructions on how he could be reached and Mr. Crew didn’t make that effort. This is a complete fabrication and it’s just so much silliness.”

Mr. Williams’ initial attempt to take control of the school system resulted in the creation of the hybrid school board based on a referendum in 2000.

Opposing yesterday’s legislation were council members Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat; Vincent B. Orange Sr., Ward 5 Democrat; David A. Catania, at-large Republican; Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat; Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat; and Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat.

Mr. Chavous said the council should not enact major structural changes to the school system while it searches for a new superintendent to replace Paul L. Vance, who retired last year.

“The most important thing we can do is to hire a competent superintendent to run the schools,” Mr. Chavous said.

Mr. Mendelson said giving city government more control of the schools would “further eliminate accountability in the school system.”

Mrs. Cropp agreed: “When a superintendent goes in, they should have the ability to expect that there will be no major and significant change.”

Other council members disagreed, saying the legislation did not go far enough to improve a school system in which test scores rank among the lowest in the nation.

“I don’t think anybody would want to stay in an abusive, miserable relationship for the sake of stability,” said Mr. Catania. He called the current structure “completely disconnected from reality.”

In opposing the legislation, Mr. Orange simply tore up a copy of the legislation saying, “Let’s go get a document that has some meat to it.”

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