- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2007

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty yesterday announced his plan to assume authority over the District’s public school system, prompting Board of Education President Robert C. Bobb to pledge to resign if the plan is adopted by the D.C. Council and Congress.

At a morning press conference at the John A. Wilson Building, Mr. Fenty, a Democrat, distributed copies of the legislation he plans to submit to the council. Nine of 11 council members attended the press conference.

“There have been decades of promises and decades of failure,” Mr. Fenty said.

“We have a school system which, despite a lot of resources being spent and a lot of time and attention being placed on the issue, is still failing our children, and because of that is failing our city,” he said.

The proposal establishes the mayor’s authority over the school system’s budget, curriculum and personnel. It reduces the elected school board to an advisory body and appoints a Cabinet-level schools chancellor to run the 58,000-student system.

It also calls for an ombudsman, who would receive feedback from parents and a facilities manager who would oversee a schools modernization program.

Mr. Bobb, who was sworn into office Wednesday night, said yesterday Mr. Fenty had not consulted him about the plan or presented him with a copy before distributing it to reporters earlier.

At an afternoon press conference at the Board of Education’s meeting room in Northeast, Mr. Bobb pledged to resign. The press conference was delayed for more than an hour so that he and other board members could watch Mr. Fenty’s press conference on television.

“I did not run to serve in an advisory capacity reporting to a department head of the District of Columbia,” Mr. Bobb said.

Asked if he would resign if Mr. Fenty’s plan is passed, he said, “I would, definitely, yes. I mean, I would resign from my seat as president of the school board and I would seek other ways upon which I could contribute.”

He also said he would rather see the Board of Education dissolved than see it turned into an advisory body.

“The only reason I can see, from the summary, that we have this particular proposal is that we don’t want to become involved and engaged in a conversation along home rule and eliminating the elected school board,” Mr. Bobb said.

Former Mayor Anthony A. Williams twice tried to take control of the schools during his two terms, winning a 2000 referendum that created a compromise hybrid board composed of five elected members and four members appointed by the mayor. The board reverts to an all-elected body in 2009. The council in April 2004 rejected a Williams administration plan that was similar to what the Fenty administration has proposed.

Mr. Bobb, who served until September as city administrator under Mr. Williams, was joined at his press conference by school board members Jeff Smith, who represents District 1, and William Lockridge, who represents District 4.

Carolyn N. Graham, the vice president of the school board who was appointed to the board by Mr. Williams and lost a November bid for school board president, was also at Mr. Bobb’s side.

“It is unfortunate that we are having to have a dialogue now with the new administration through the press as opposed to face to face, where we sit down as adults and make right decisions and good decisions that concern meeting the needs of our children,” she said. “We are looking forward to a review of the legislation. We have not even been given a courtesy copy, an embargoed copy, of the legislation, which is rather troubling.”

Mr. Bobb acknowledged that momentum in the debate seemed to be with Mr. Fenty and that he was “realistic” about the likelihood of its passage.

“The train has, in fact, left the station,” Mr. Bobb said. He said that the school board has been focused on crafting policy and that when the board learns more about Mr. Fenty’s proposal it can decide how best to respond to it.

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray yesterday acknowledged the long-standing troubles of the school system. He did not say whether he supports Mr. Fenty’s plan, but he indicated that he is looking forward to hearings that explore the issue.

“We intend to move forward with hearings quickly, as quickly as we can organize ourselves to be able to do that,” he said. He also said he will not wait to act on the issue until special elections in the spring fill two council seats left vacant when he and Mr. Fenty were elected in November.

If the vote comes prior to the special elections, Mr. Fenty will need six council members to approve the plan and send it for a vote in Congress. He appeared to have at least that much support already.

Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, said he read the legislation Wednesday night. “I’m very pleased with what I read,” he said. “It’s a plan that, frankly, I supported three years ago.”

Council member David A. Catania, at-large independent, applauded Mr. Fenty for taking bold steps to fix the schools. “I think this mayor deserves a tremendous amount of credit for staking his reputation and his future on this issue,” he said.

Council member Jim Graham said he also supported the plan. “I have great confidence in this mayor. I have great confidence in how he has approached this,” the Ward 1 Democrat said. “Without the sense of confidence that Adrian Fenty could do this job, I would be looking at other options today.”

Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, and Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, were the only council members who did not attend Mr. Fenty’s press conference.

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