- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2007

The D.C. Council yesterday gave final approval to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s takeover of the District’s public schools, placing the decision to shift oversight of the system into the hands of Congress.

“I feel hopeful because I know this is the right decision, I know this is the right direction, and I know our children will benefit because of it,” council member David A. Catania, at-large independent, said prior to the vote on the schools measure.

The council passed Mr. Fenty’s amended takeover proposal by a 9-2 vote, the same margin by which they initially passed the measure on April 3. In a statement, Mr. Fenty said he was grateful for the council’s confidence and is “dedication in restoring our schools.”

“The council has entrusted me with the single most important function of the city: our children’s education,” Mr. Fenty said. “My goal is to provide District students with a world-class education, giving each a competitive advantage for a promising future.”

A spokeswoman for the mayor said Mr. Fenty hopes to assume control of the system as soon as possible. A fiscal impact statement prepared last month by the city’s chief financial officer indicates that city leaders expect the proposal to be phased in beginning in October.

His proposal now heads to Congress, where it must be voted upon by the House and Senate because the takeover requires an amendment to the District’s Home Rule Charter.

Fenty spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said the mayor’s administration has “been working with both sides of Congress to quickly get the legislation to the floor.”

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican and ranking minority member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform — which has legislative jurisdiction over the District — said he supports Mr. Fenty’s plan and “Congress should not stand in the way.”

“Every locality should have the right to determine its own education governance,” Mr. Davis said. “Mayor Fenty is to be commended for proposing, and the council for enacting, such a bold and necessary reform.”

A spokeswoman for Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said the District’s nonvoting member of Congress would work to have legislators address the issue “expeditiously.”

The final version of Mr. Fenty’s proposal featured several additional council changes, including the requirement that two-thirds of the council must approve budget changes between schools.

But there was little debate yesterday on the overall plan — which will place the 55,000-student school system under the mayor’s control and diminish the role of the Board of Education — and the council members stuck to their previously stated stances on the measure.

Council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, said approving the takeover plan finally lays “the platform for student achievement.” Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, said the bill is “a step in the right direction.”

“Is it going to solve the problem overnight? Of course not,” Mr. Evans said. But “this is the approach we are taking, and I hope after this vote we all pull together and make this work.”

Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, and Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, remained the lone dissenters to the bill.

Both council members urged caution going forward with the plan, and Mrs. Schwartz repeated her criticism that the takeover was not brought to voters through a referendum.

“It confounds me that we are about to limit … democracy ourselves and ask Congress to help us do that,” Mrs. Schwartz said. “But we’re going where we are going.”

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