- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2007

D.C. Council members yesterday criticized Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s proposal to take over the public school system, saying it might not effect enough change and could make schools the political bargaining chips of the council.

“By putting the schools under the mayor and council … we would be removing the independence of the schools and subjecting the schools more directly to the political give-and-take that occurs with so many issues,” said council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat.

Mr. Fenty, a Democrat, testified before the council’s Committee of the Whole during the first of six scheduled hearings on the takeover plan. He said his plan was a way to improve student achievement, raise failing test scores and quickly repair crumbling facilities.

“This legislation is created to improve outcomes,” Mr. Fenty said. “I believe the problem stems from both a structure that does not reflect or respond to the urgency of the current situation as well as a structure that is not directly accountable for performance.”

Mr. Fenty’s plan, however, appears to have the support of a majority of the council. But nearly every council member yesterday had questions about aspects of the plan, which would make the school system a Cabinet-level agency subordinate to the mayor and managed by a schools chancellor.

Under the plan, which would require approval from both the council and Congress, the role of the nine-member elected school board would be reduced and an authority would be created to manage more than $2 billion in school construction funds.

The mayor would develop the school system’s budget, and the council would have line-item veto power over the funding proposals.

Mr. Mendelson said he does not want schools to become “fodder in the deal-making we sometimes do in the legislative process” because of the council having the veto power.

Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, voiced similar concerns.

“What I’m still very concerned about is turning a lot of the role of the current school board over to the city council,” Mr. Wells said, referring to the veto authority. “Was it a political compromise, or do you think it’s a better way to handle governance?”

“It’s the latter,” Mr. Fenty replied. “There is a role for the council to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ ”

Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, pointed out that she and Mr. Fenty, a former council member, opposed a similar school takeover plan introduced in 2004 by Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

“He has changed his mind, I have not,” said Mrs. Schwartz, adding that the school board’s new members should be given a chance to succeed. “Why would we not give this mix a chance, a limited time to prove their mettle?”

Mrs. Schwartz also asked Mr. Fenty whether he would retain school Superintendent Clifford B. Janey as school chancellor, but Mr. Fenty said he had not made the decision.

“It’s upon us to get the best superintendent in the country,” Mr. Fenty said, “whether that’s the superintendent we have or someone else out there.”

Other council members, including Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, and David A. Catania, at-large independent, expressed support for the plan yesterday. Some also criticized the Board of Education’s Wednesday announcement that it would oppose Mr. Fenty’s takeover and submit its own school governance plan to the council in March.

“They’ve known about this for months, and the plan is going to be submitted in March,” Mr. Catania said. “The time to talk is over. The time to act is now.”

Council members are expected to vote on Mr. Fenty’s proposal in April. The next hearing on the matter is scheduled for Jan. 30.

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