- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2006

D.C. education officials and residents testified yesterday against a proposed school charter amendment that would give the D.C. Council the power to decide how money in the public school budget is spent.

“This legislation is not necessary to ensure that the board exercises its oversight responsibilities over the budget,” said Peggy Cooper Cafritz, president of the D.C. Board of Education.

The council currently approves only the amount of money the D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) system receives. The council does not have the power to determine how the system spends the money.

DCPS currently has a $1.1 billion budget.

Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr., Ward 5 Democrat and mayoral candidate, said the council should be allowed budgetary control because the school board is not doing an effective job.

“We have to shape the system up, and we have to make sure the children are first,” he said. “If that means stepping on toes, then so be it.”

Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat and candidate for council chairman, said wresting control of the budget from the school board is not the answer.

“We have a policy-making Board of Education, and doing the nuts and bolts of the budget is their job,” she said.

Marc Borbely, a community schools activist, said that because the board is elected by residents, it should be held responsible for its budgetary actions by voters, not other elected officials.

“We elect school board members, and we don’t need the council meddling with that,” he said.

City officials said yesterday that changing the charter to give the council more control would not alter the way Congress reviews the DCPS budget.

The council also heard testimony yesterday on a bill that would change student performance requirements within the DCPS.

The bill would require third-grade students to read independently and understand basic math before being able to move to the fourth grade. It also would require that students in the eighth grade read at or above grade level and be exposed to pre-algebra before moving to the ninth grade.

Mrs. Cafritz said the school board does not need the council to make academic policy changes.

She said schools Superintendent Clifford B. Janey has addressed those requirements in his master education plan, released earlier this year.

“The Board of Education has adopted new academic standards to ensure the proficiency of all students in mathematics and reading,” she said. “The superintendent is developing and implementing programs to ensure that students meet those standards.”

The council also heard testimony yesterday on a bill that would change the charter to recognize residents’ fundamental rights to education.

That bill also would require the District to provide a system of high-quality schools for city children.

Mrs. Patterson, who proposed the change, said the bill affirms the city’s commitment to children and education.

“If we really believe in a quality education for every child, we need to have that in the charter,” she said.

The council has not scheduled a date to vote on the bills.

If passed by the council, the three bills would appear on the ballot in November.

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