- The Washington Times - Monday, May 28, 2007

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has not determined when he will appeal a ruling that potentially gives voters power to decide whether he can take over the public school system, and critics of Mr. Fenty’s plan are concerned he will delay his challenge as long as possible to stop their efforts.

“He’ll wait until the very last minute. I’m not stupid, nobody’s stupid,” said Mary F. Spencer, who successfully petitioned the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics for a chance to put the mayor’s takeover plan to a referendum. “This is not about Fenty taking over the schools. This is about him taking away our right to vote.”

Fenty officials initially said they planned early this week to appeal the ruling that gives Mrs. Spencer and others roughly one week to collect about 20,000 signatures to place the takeover plan on the ballot for an August special election.

Fenty spokeswoman Carrie Brooks said yesterday that “no final decision on timing has been made at this point” but that an appeal is still forthcoming.

She said the Office of the Attorney General “is still determining the best course of action.”

When Mr. Fenty’s challenge is filed it will likely play a crucial role in whether his plan goes before voters.

Elections officials said last week the window to appeal the decision ends June 5. The signatures must be presented to the board before the end of the bill’s mandatory 30-day congressional review period, which is expected to expire June 12.

A challenge filed June 5 would likely give referendum supporters less days to gather the minimum number of signatures because a court would have to decide on the appeal before the petition process begins. Exactly how many days depends on how long the court takes, though the appeal will likely be heard quickly.

Mrs. Spencer, a public school grandparent and vice president of the D.C. office of the Association of Community Organizations for Change Now, said she expects a late challenge to happen but hopes to have enough support to gather the signatures even if faced with a shortened time frame.

“We’re just starting,” she said. “We predict this week that things should really heat up.”

The mayor’s takeover of the 55,000-student system was approved by the Senate last week and now awaits President Bush’s signature.

Mr. Fenty, a Democrat, has attempted the shift in school governance to improve accountability and performance in a system plagued by failing test scores and declining student enrollment.

If his proposal is defeated by a referendum, voters would essentially veto the D.C. Council’s vote that gives Mr. Fenty control of the school system.

However, a referendum would have no effect on the bill currently awaiting the president’s signature, since that legislation simply repeals sections of the District’s Home Rule Charter and allows the council to give the mayor authority over the schools, said Matthew Watson, Mrs. Spencer’s attorney.

Referendum supporters are required to collect the signatures of at least 5 percent of registered voters in the District.

The signatures also must be distributed to reflect at least 5 percent of the registered voters in at least five of the city’s eight wards.

Mr. Watson said the “ethical” thing for the mayor to do would be to file his challenge immediately.

“If they are decent people and care about their electorate, it will come early,” he said. “If they are people who want to play bureaucratic delay games, it will come later.”

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