- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2007

School board President Robert C. Bobb yesterday said that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s schools plan is misguided in focus, and he advocated his alternative plan to sway skeptical D.C. Council members who appear ready to side with the mayor.

“Right now what the students of the District of Columbia public schools need is for the mayor and council to enact meaningful education reform, not governance reform …,” Mr. Bobb said during the second in a series of public hearings considering Mr. Fenty’s proposal. “Moving and adjusting boxes in an organization is not going to make the reforms of an organization work.”

Schools Superintendent Clifford B. Janey also broke his silence on Mr. Fenty’s schools plan under questioning from council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat.

“I’m in favor of the Board of Education’s proposal as it’s been articulated,” Mr. Janey said. “Yes, it’s late, but it’s still the right position to have and to advance.”

Mr. Janey said he was concerned about aspects of Mr. Fenty’s plan.

“I have serious concerns about the issue of line-item veto,” he said. “I have some concerns about whether or not in the proposal there would be streamlined opportunities for executing the responsibilities that we currently have.”

During the marathon session that lasted well into the evening, about 40 experts, education activists and school system leaders from across the country evaluated Mr. Fenty’s and Mr. Bobb’s proposals.

“I really like the proposal that the board has put together,” said Michael Casserly, executive director of the D.C.-based Council of Great City Schools, a coalition of 66 of the nation’s largest urban public school systems. “It is a serious bill, it is a substantive bill, and frankly it emphasizes the one priority that probably needs the most emphasis all around, and that is student achievement.”

Mr. Bobb’s plan on Monday was endorsed unanimously by the Board of Education, which currently consists of six members. Three school board members appointed by Mr. Fenty are expected to take office today.

Some witnesses expressed support for a mayoral takeover but cautioned against an insular approach to decision-making that such a structure can create.

“I have many quarrels with the way [Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg] has run the system and I believe political checks and balances need to be restored,” said David C. Bloomfield, head of education leadership at New York’s Brooklyn College. “Mayoral control does not improve test scores, but in New York I believe it has given our students a better chance to succeed.”

Mr. Fenty’s plan would reduce the role of the school board and place the system under the authority of the mayor’s office. Proponents say the plan will bring about accountability through a trickle-down effect that will begin with changing the structure of school governance.

The proposal would require the approval of both the council and Congress and already appears to have the support of about eight council members.

“I think the burden is why shouldn’t we support the mayor’s proposal, given the situation that exists in our school system and has existed for some time?” Mrs. Cheh said. “We dare not wait to effect reform. We can’t take any more chances with students who are in school right now.”

Critics say Mr. Fenty’s plan focuses too much on the structure of school governance instead of improving student achievement. Mr. Bobb’s proposal would allow the board to act more freely and promises specific academic outcomes within 18 months. The plan would require council approval.

Some council members said the school board’s countermeasure contained laudable goals that have come along too late.

“It’s like trying to move the chairs on the Titanic,” said council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat. “The ship is sinking.”

The council is expected to vote on Mr. Fenty’s proposal in March or April. The next scheduled public hearing on the measure is set for Feb. 7, and council Chairman Vincent C. Gray also scheduled an additional hearing for public witnesses Feb. 20.

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