- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2003

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday said his plan to seize control of the public school system has brought mixed reactions so he will “sit down” with the D.C. Council to debate the next step.

“There was a lot of positive reaction and a lot of negative reaction for all the reasons you would think,” Mr. Williams told The Washington Times. “We plan to have a sit down [with the D.C. Council] and have a good debate and good discussion.”

Mr. Williams has already made several moves to increase his control. Two years ago, voters allowed him to appoint four of the nine D.C. Board of Education members. But he has become disenchanted with his handpicked board president, Peggy Cooper Cafritz.

Then yesterday on WTOP News Radio (1500 AM) Mrs. Cafritz said she is “not too happy” with the mayor’s plan and that parents, teachers and students do not support a takeover bid.

D.C. Council members said Mr. Williams assured them last week that he would not pursue the plan without the backing of a majority of the council. So news of the plan took them by surprise yesterday.

However, at least six of the 13 council members said they either supported the mayor’s plan or were open to it. The mayor can expect opposition from council members Adrian M. Fenty, Kathy Patterson and Carol Schwartz.

“I’m not there,” said Mrs. Schwartz, at-large Republican. “If he were doing a perfect job with all the other agencies under his purview, maybe. But certainly not now.”

Mr. Williams is still drafting the proposal. He is considering either asking the council to give him authority to appoint all the board members or making the independent school system a city agency so he can appoint a superintendent, The Washington Post reported yesterday.

The school board now has the power to hire and fire superintendents and authority over the school system budget.

Council member Kevin P. Chavous, chairman of the education committee, has been working on his own plan for the mayor and council to take some authority from the board, such as instituting a line-item veto to control the budget.

A spokesman for Mr. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat, said the councilman was open to the mayor’s proposal and that he would consider making all the board members appointees. Mr. Chavous opposed the idea three years ago.

Council member Sharon Ambrose said the public school budget “has totally run amok” and she completely backs Mr. William’s plan.

“It is important to get some out-of-the-box thinking in our school system,” said Mrs. Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat,

Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, also said drastic action was needed to fix the failing schools, though he called the elected board the “third rail” of D.C. politics.

Still, Mr. Graham said he would consider supporting an appointed board, the city taking over the school budget or anything to correct a system that has overspent about $150 million during the past three years.

“I’m as fed up as anybody,” Mr. Graham said. “We have to do something because the system is not working.”

Council member Phil Mendelson, who strongly backed an elected school board three years ago, said the poor performance of public schools might make it necessary for council members to buck popular support for an elected board members.

“This may be one of those issues where the elected officials have to get out front and say, ‘We have to do something different,’” said Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat. “My support for an elected school board is weaker than it was three years ago.”

However, he said giving too much control to the mayor and council could make the system even more political.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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