- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2001

District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams' desire to see a private company run some of the District's poorest-performing schools has upset some city and school officials who have accused the mayor of meddling where he doesn't belong.

"I am a strong supporter of charter schools, but I think this is outrageous," said D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat, who heads the council's education committee. "We went through a lot of pain last year on the school board [referendum]. It is far too soon for the mayor or I to interfere with the running of the schools, especially as we have made a commitment to this board."

On Wednesday, Mr. Williams told editors and reporters of The Washington Times he was interested in considering Edison Schools Inc. the for-profit company that manages 113 schools around the country including four in the District to run more of the city's public schools.

He said that even though school officials are developing their own plan to turn around these schools, it would be prudent to consider different options.

"School officials say, 'We've got our own approach,' and I am open to that. But why can't we do both, turning over a handful of schools to Edison?" the mayor said Wednesday.

Some residents have expressed support for Mr. Williams' idea and say something drastic needs to be done for the city's most desperate schools. Others dismiss the proposal, speculating that the mayor has become impatient with the slow pace of school reform. They say he is pushing too soon.

"Is the mayor ever going to let the board run the schools?" asked one city official privately. "He got his four appointees, but now it seems his real goal is to run the schools."

One city official who declined to be named said the board's infighting and wobbly start may have pushed the mayor into action; besides the private sector help, the mayor has also said he wants to find a new way to deliver capital improvement funds because the school system has been too slow.

The mayor also has been embroiled in an increasingly bitter dispute with school officials over the amount of money for schools in his $5.3 billion proposed budget.

Yesterday, the D.C. Council heard a direct plea from schools Superintendent Paul L. Vance and school board members, who were upset about what the mayor has proposed.

The D.C. school system, with 69,000 students, has a current budget of $629 million. Mr. Williams has proposed a fiscal 2002 school budget of $658 million, a 4.6 percent increase. But the board has requested $717 million, an 11 percent increase over last year's budget, to turn it into a "world class system."

The mayor has called education the city's top priority but said he will demand school officials justify the connection between increased money and results, particularly as school enrollment continues to decrease.

"I think we all expected them to get in there and run," the city official said of the 2-month-old school board. "But they have taken … wobbly baby steps."

"I wish there were more agreement between the mayor and his hand-picked school board," said education activist Larry Gray, who ran for board president in November. "We're off to a shaky start."

Meanwhile, Edison officials say they would be delighted to come back into the District.

"We have four schools in the District and like being in D.C.," said Gaynor McCown, senior vice president for Edison Schools Inc. "If the mayor and the school board are interested, we'd love to talk to them."

Edison Schools Inc. runs four D.C. charter schools: Edison-Friendly Collegiate Academy, Edison-Friendly/Woodridge Campus, Edison-Friendly/Blow Pierce Campus and Edison-Friendly/ Chamberlain Campus. Each has been described as "fairly successful."

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