- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2007

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty yesterday made his final pitch to take over the public schools, telling council members he would increase student test scores, redesign the report card and explore offering bonuses to overachieving teachers and principals.

The proposals were detailed in a 31-page report of initiatives and classroom results Mr. Fenty submitted to council members to support his takeover bid.

“Just like other agencies under my administration, the school system and the transformation on which we are about to embark will be managed by outcomes,” Mr. Fenty said during the seventh council hearing on his proposal. The series of forums have featured nearly 60 hours of testimony and hundreds of witnesses.

“I will hold the chancellor and the other agencies who are supporting our public education system accountable for tangible results, with the ultimate focus on student achievement,” said Mr. Fenty, whose plan has been criticized for focusing too much on school governance instead of improving student achievement.

The initiatives Mr. Fenty submitted to the council call for increasing the percentage of students proficient in math and reading in grades three through eight. They also call for increasing by the end of fiscal 2009 Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores and the number of students that take the test.

Some of the goals Mr. Fenty outlined are expected to be achieved in the first 100 days after approval of his plan. However, specific outcomes for several others, such as the average point increase in SAT scores, were ambiguous.

Mr. Fenty said it is “premature to provide specific targets and benchmarks.”

“The strategies … outlined are not all-inclusive,” he said. “There will be continuous dialogue between the mayor and the chancellor once a preliminary analysis of the school system is completed after the legislation passes.”

The mayor also proposed redesigning the student report card by the 2008-2009 school year, possibly creating signing and performance-based bonuses for high-performing teachers at low-performing schools and implementing a statistical accountability system to track issues like special education and human resources.

Some measures are aimed at making the school system more customer friendly. Mr. Fenty wants to redesign the school system’s Web site and conduct an audit for responsiveness and service among school system employees by using “secret shoppers.”

Mr. Fenty’s mayoral takeover would give the mayor’s office direct authority over the 55,000-student system and allow him to appoint the schools superintendent, whose title would be changed to chancellor.

It would also give the council line-item veto authority over the school system’s budget and place the D.C. Board of Education into a largely policy-setting role with responsibilities such as approving state academic standards.

Members of the council also questioned Mr. Fenty about possible changes to his legislation, including expanding the policy role of the Board of Education.

Mr. Fenty said he would “very likely support” such a change as well as other “minor, technical amendments.”

Council member Kwame Brown, at-large Democrat, said he planned to introduce emergency legislation next week that would more quickly implement an aspect of Mr. Fenty’s plan that calls for the creation of an agency responsible for school construction and modernization.

Council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, asked Mr. Fenty whether he would be in favor of bringing his mayoral takeover to a public vote in several years after its approval. The city of Cleveland set up such a referendum on mayoral control three years after instituting the takeover, and voters overwhelmingly approved the governance structure.

Mr. Fenty indicated he would not be in favor of bringing the measure to a later vote, saying debate “has to occur right now.”

“We’ve had a change in both the council and the mayor,” he said. “But I don’t think we need to artificially make sure [debate] happens again.”

Mr. Fenty’s proposal for mayoral control appears to have the support of most council members, who likely will vote on the measure in April.

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