- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2006

The two leading candidates for president of the D.C. Board of Education are mum on the race’s most pressing issue: whether they would support a takeover of city schools by the next mayor, most likely Adrian M. Fenty.

Robert C. Bobb and Carolyn N. Graham say they would be willing to work with Mr. Fenty if he places the school system directly under the supervision of the mayor’s office, but both stop short of endorsing the proposed change.

“I want us to be able to work together and not get caught up in the foolishness of who reports to whom,” said Miss Graham, the board’s appointed vice president. “That is not the issue. The issue is our children learning.”

Mr. Bobb, a former city administrator under Mayor Anthony A. Williams, called it “fantastic” that Mr. Fenty wants to take an active role in education, but he would not comment on the proposed takeover.

“I have not seen the plan,” said Mr. Bobb, 61. “When the plan is presented, I’ll have my comments on it.”

Miss Graham, 60, and Mr. Bobb are the front-runners in a five-way race for the school board presidency. The other candidates are Laurent Ross, former director of the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant Program; Timothy L. Jenkins, former interim president of the University of the District of Columbia; and Sunday Abraham, a former teacher and community activist.

Campaign finance reports filed Oct. 10 show Mr. Bobb leading in fundraising with more than $86,000 in cash on hand. Miss Graham trails with about $11,000.

The school board’s next president will lead a panel in flux.

Voters will elect a Board of Education president and two members next Tuesday, and the mayor will appoint two other members at the end of the year to replace those whose terms expired.

The board will revert to an all-elected body in 2008, but its role in a likely Fenty administration is not clear.

Mr. Fenty, a Democrat and current Ward 4 representative on the D.C. Council, could seek to relegate the board to an advisory role if he succeeds in placing the school system under his office’s authority.

The District’s school system currently operates independently of the mayor and the council. A charter amendment would be required for the mayor to take control of the schools.

The school system faces mounting challenges that include declining enrollment, low standardized test scores and deteriorating facilities.

Superintendent Clifford B. Janey has called for the construction of more than 20 new schools, upgrades at more than 100 buildings in the next 15 years and a moratorium on creating charter schools.

Miss Graham said her experience on the board and with Mr. Janey gives her an understanding about how to eliminate excess space, create community partnerships to help reform special education, and implement other changes.

She said she admires Mr. Fenty’s desire for direct involvement but that it should go beyond “management and government.”

If the next mayor takes over the schools, the board could be placed in an advisory role with authority in policy matters, she said.

Mr. Bobb has touted his experience with senior members of the D.C. Council, including Mr. Fenty, and his management skills.

His goals for the D.C. school system include prioritizing elements of Mr. Janey’s plans. These include better preparation for students entering the system, mandating parental involvement and reducing the costs of special education.

He also emphasized increasing literacy, making the board’s dealings more transparent and expediting facility improvements.

“Time is of the essence,” Mr. Bobb said. “We can’t continue to have [thousands] of students in the space we have.”

Both candidates oppose a ban on charter schools, which are publicly funded and independently operated.

Miss Graham would like to convert 10 public schools into charter schools, which she says would allow unionized teachers and staff to retain their jobs while increasing student and staff performance.

Mr. Bobb said that charter schools should have stronger oversight but that they can provide a better education for some students.

“At the end of the day, these are all public schools,” he said.

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