D.C. Council members yesterday were dismayed to learn that a city official awarded a contract to begin implementing the mayor's public schools-takeover legislation before the council approved the bill.
State Schools Superintendent Deborah A. Gist in February contracted international consulting firm KPMG to make recommendations regarding separation of local and state education agencies. The contract included work mandated by the then-unapproved takeover plan, which raised the eyebrows of some council members.
"It almost seems presumptuous on its face," council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, a Democrat, said yesterday during a hearing on the school system's leadership transition plans. "A substantial part of the scope of work done by these four contractors absent this legislation would have been irrelevant."
The council did not approve Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's takeover plan until May. The plan did not become effective until June 12 after congressional and presidential approval.
Miss Gist said the Office of the State Superintendent for Education — formerly the State Education Office — "moved around" funds in its budget to pay for the contract. An office spokesman said the contract was not to exceed $456,325.
Miss Gist also used $386,000 of private donations of in-kind services to contract KPMG and three other organizations for similar work, the spokesman said.
Miss Gist said two of the contracts did not include work to implement the mayor's plan and one was not approved until after the city council passed the takeover bill.
She said the lion's share of the consulting contract dealt with changes that were planned irrespective of the takeover and that she, former schools Superintendent Clifford B. Janey and other school officials had already discussed the contract.
"No work occurred that did not already need to happen," Miss Gist said.
Mr. Gray said he was aware of the contracts in May, but did not know they addressed changes dependent on the mayor's plan until last week.
He said the experience has emphasized the need to tighten communication between the council and school officials and better define each group's role in the transition.
"We're all to some extent in unfamiliar territory," Mr. Gray said. "It's a case where you're trying to build a bicycle and ride it at the same time."
Officials for the superintendent's office said yesterday they would meet a request for copies of the contracts, but had not as of late afternoon.
The superintendent's office said KPMG was to make recommendations to the office regarding the integration of two programs — the adult literacy program at the University of the District of Columbia and the Early Care and Education Administration at the Department of Human Services.
The contract issue was discussed as Miss Gist presented the transition plan, which was mostly well-received by council members in attendance but elicited some criticism.
The school system's reorganization is scheduled to be fully implemented by spring 2008. The plan includes the creation of four leadership groups and a program to increase accountability through the use of data.
The superintendent's office has until Sept. 10 to submit a full transition plan to the council.
Mary Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, said the plan seemed "much too long in its implementation."
"It struck me a lot of time may be spent on making up charts and having meetings," Miss Cheh said.
Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, said he was displeased with the treatment of the school board members and staff, who will now be housed at the superintendent's office and using temporary workstations.
Miss Gist said she is negotiating a permanent location for board members and staff with the Office of Property Management.