- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2007

The D.C. Council today is expected to give preliminary approval to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s plans to take over the public school system, but not without substantial changes.

“This bill has been rewritten, and we’ve worked very closely with the mayor’s staff along the way,” council Chairman Vincent C. Gray said yesterday. “It really is a bill that reflects the mayor’s desires, the mayor’s requests and the council’s concerns in substantial part as well.”

But changes to the mayor’s plan will be offered, and some have already been made through cooperation between the council and Mr. Fenty’s education team.

Mr. Gray proposed a substantial addition to the legislation, calling for annual evaluations of the school system and requiring the mayor’s office to set benchmarks for progress by September 2008.

At the end of five years, the school system would also be independently evaluated and the council would decide whether changes to the authority structure need to be made.

“After five years, we should know if we’re heading in the right direction or not,” said Mr. Gray, a Democrat. “What I would expect is we would do some revisions to the law based on that five years’ experience.”

Mr. Fenty’s proposal also calls for an independent authority to manage school construction and modernization. Mr. Gray said the legislation has been amended to bring the agency within the government, but that it gives the department independent authority over personnel and procurement.

The agency’s director also could only be dismissed with the approval of two-thirds of the council.

Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, said several changes she has proposed have been incorporated into the bill, including one that will prohibit members of the council — who will have line-item control over the school system budget under Mr. Fenty’s plan — from allocating specific resources to individual schools for a trial period of one year.

“I really don’t want us to be in the position of talking about what school gets what resources,” Mrs. Cheh said. “I think that would create a lot of mischief and politics.”

Mrs. Cheh said she also has succeeded in broadening the bill’s language to include more responsibility for the Board of Education, which is largely relegated to an advisory role in Mr. Fenty’s plan.

The council member said her change will allow the board to hold regular hearings and perform studies and compile reports to aid in their recommendations.

Other members said they plan to introduce amendments to Mr. Fenty’s proposal from the dais today.

Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat who has opposed a mayoral takeover, named four amendments he plans to introduce — including one that would call for voters to decide about Mr. Fenty’s plan in a referendum.

“I think a change this [large] should be submitted to the voters,” Mr. Mendelson said. He also plans to introduce an amendment that would require school officials to submit a detailed budget plan of how much resources each school will receive, and one that would allow a proposed school ombudsman’s office to investigate schools-related complaints about the mayor’s office.

Mr. Mendelson said the legislation currently does not permit the ombudsman to investigate the executive branch, which would be accountable for the schools.

Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican who also opposes the mayor’s proposal, would not discuss details of the amendments she will offer but said they will include “a combination of major changes and minor.”

Mr. Fenty’s legislation faces another vote in the council if it passes today and then will require the approval of Congress.

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