- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The D.C. Council yesterday overwhelmingly approved Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s proposed takeover of the city’s struggling public schools, virtually assuring that the shift in school governance will become law.

“I’m pleased to finally be in a position where the mayor and council can act,” said Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat. “And if we fail, then it’s on us.”

The council approved Mr. Fenty’s proposal on a 9-2 vote. The bill faces a second vote, expected to occur April 17, and if it passes then, it will be submitted to Congress for final approval.

“We know that the council’s process isn’t over,” said Mr. Fenty, a Democrat. “I’m just appreciative that the council deliberated, that they voted [and] listened to the arguments” about the proposal.

School board President Robert C. Bobb — who had pledged to resign if Mr. Fenty’s takeover was instituted — said that he was still not happy with the plan but that he will not relinquish his post. Mr. Bobb also said he is “ready to work with the mayor and the council to put this new structure in place.”

“I’ve been in politics for a long time, and one thing you have to come to grips with is reality,” Mr. Bobb said, adding that his promise to resign was made in the “heat of battle.”

One school board member announced his resignation yesterday after the vote was cast. Jeffrey Smith, an elected member who represented Wards 1 and 2 on the board, will leave his post April 19.

“I think the city council made it clear today that the Board of Education is not within the vision for educational leadership moving forward in the city,” Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Fenty’s plan would elevate the public-school system to a Cabinet-level agency managed by the mayor and headed by a schools chancellor. The proposal also would create a Department of Education to oversee other aspects of the school system and would place the Board of Education in a mostly policy-setting role.

The mayor has touted the takeover as a way to effect change in a school system suffering from declining enrollment and low test scores.

Fenty supporters also have said the shift in governance structure will hold the mayor accountable for the school system’s progress, which council members said they will be happy to do.

“We’re going to hold Mayor Fenty’s feet to the fire,” said Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat. “We want this school system to be the best in the world, and it can happen if we make it happen.”

Council members offered few amendments to Mr. Fenty’s proposal yesterday, largely because the Fenty administration changed some aspects of the plan since it was introduced to address their concerns.

One recent addition to the legislation calls for an independent evaluation of the school system under mayoral control after five years, at which time the council would decide whether changes to the authority structure need to be made. The mayor will also provide the council with annual performance reviews of the school system.

Another change places an agency charged with managing school construction and modernization projects inside the government, instead of making it an independent agency as proposed by Mr. Fenty.

But yesterday’s vote did not come without some dissension. Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, and Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, voted against Mr. Fenty’s proposal, and both offered amendments to the plan that were soundly defeated.

The two members co-sponsored a failed amendment that would have called for the takeover to be brought before voters in a referendum.

“This is an amazingly dramatic change,” Mrs. Schwartz said. “Even though I know people want to do this and they want to forge ahead, I don’t think it takes too much time to [have] a democratic process and do it.”

Mrs. Schwartz also sparked the ire of some of her colleagues while introducing a substitute proposal to Mr. Fenty’s takeover. She said her amendment would “probably be voted down because the deals have been struck.”

Mary Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, and Harry Thomas, Ward 5 Democrat, both said they took offense to the idea that they struck deals with Mr. Fenty to support his proposal.

Mr. Thomas called Mrs. Schwartz’s amendment an “affront” and said he was “angered by anyone who would have the public believe that we’ve cut some deal” to support the schools proposal.

Mrs. Schwartz then clarified her comments by saying that some council members were able to incorporate aspects of what they wanted into the mayor’s plan.

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