- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A former mayor who had authority over her city’s public schools said yesterday that D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s proposed change in school governance will work if executed properly.

“I absolutely believe that mayoral control is the answer,” former Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell told the D.C. Council’s Committee of the Whole. “It just has to be real and not imaginary.”

Mrs. Campbell testified during the council’s fifth of seven scheduled public hearings on Mr. Fenty’s proposal, which would place the struggling public school system under the control of the mayor.

Mrs. Campbell, who took office after Cleveland instituted mayoral control in the late 1990s, said that the decision was “hugely controversial” when first implemented in her city, but that the results of the move spoke for themselves.

“Clearly mayoral control had made a difference as compared to the old system,” she said. “Attendance was up, scores were moving up, teachers were actually certified in the subjects they were teaching.”

Mrs. Campbell also said that city residents initially were not able to vote on the measure, but that they overwhelmingly voted to keep mayoral control when the matter was placed on the ballot three years later.

Opponents of Mr. Fenty’s plan, which would require the approval of the council and Congress, have criticized him for not bringing the issue to residents for a vote.

“Having that vote was extremely helpful,” Mrs. Campbell said. “It also gave us an opportunity to heal some very serious wounds.”

Mrs. Campbell cautioned that although Cleveland’s mayoral-control structure has shown success, it still has flaws. She urged the council to acknowledge that a structural change will cost money and to give the mayor budgetary control over the school system.

Council members also queried D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi about what Mr. Fenty’s proposal could cost.

Mr. Gandhi said the school governance change could have a minimal effect on the District’s finances because Mr. Fenty’s proposal would mostly reassign existing funds and functions.

“At the end of the day, the overall budget impact ought to be marginal,” he said. “However, for us to be able to say that it is so, we need to have the details.”

He said city officials are working with Mr. Fenty’s administration to finalize details of executing such a change, and his office will give the council a detailed fiscal-effect statement before members take their final vote on the measure, which could happen in April.

Mr. Gandhi also said D.C. law would need to be amended to allow funds to be transferred from the public school system to the State Education Office.

Mr. Fenty’s plan would give the mayor’s office direct authority over the 58,000-student system. It would give the council line-item veto authority over the school system’s budget and reduce the role of the D.C. Board of Education, among other measures.

The council heard from other education specialists, including Clarence N. Stone, a University of Maryland professor who has studied school-reform models.

Mr. Stone championed a school structure in El Paso, Texas, that has greatly involved the nonprofit, business and university communities. He also cited the example of Boston, which placed the school system under mayoral control in 1991.

Boston “is a good example of a school system that has not made spectacular progress but steady progress over a period of time,” said Mr. Stone, adding that he is wary of giving the mayor absolute power over the schools.

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