- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2007

D.C. parents, teachers and community activists last night gathered at a church in Southeast to voice opposition to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s proposed takeover of the city’s public schools.

“We want to get a public dialogue going to actually address the citizens of this city and see what they want instead of being told by Fenty what’s going to happen,” said Kerry Sylvia, a teacher at Cardozo High School.

About 50 people gathered at the Bethlehem Baptist Church in Anacostia for the rally, dubbed a “Shout-Out to Fenty” and held by the nonprofit organization Save Our Schools DC.

“Our mayor should show us why we should turn our babies over to him,” said Cherita Whiting, co-chairman of the Ward 4 Education Council.

The demonstration was one of the first protests opposing the new mayor’s plan. About 30 members of the group also protested the schools takeover outside Mr. Fenty’s Jan. 6 inaugural ball.

Last night, the speakers denounced Mr. Fenty’s plan and called on the mayor to bring the issue to voters through a ballot referendum. The event was moderated by Timothy Jenkins, a former interim president of the University of the District of Columbia who lost a bid for school board president in November.

Mr. Fenty, a Democrat, has pledged to work tirelessly for D.C. voting rights in Congress, but he has been criticized by some for a seeming double standard in not allowing voters to decide on his schools initiative.

His takeover would require a congressionally approved change to the District’s 1973 Home Rule Charter.

“He’s going to ask [Congress] to take away the voices of the citizens and at the same time ask them to give us a vote,” said Gina Arlotto, a parent and co-founder of Save Our Schools. “It’s just appalling.”

Last night’s speakers also said the D.C. Council, which is expected to vote on Mr. Fenty’s proposal in April, should wait to decide on the issue until after a May 1 special election is held to fill vacant council seats in Wards 4 and 7.

Under Mr. Fenty’s plan, which he announced earlier this month, the role of the nine-member school board — a current hybrid of elected and appointed members — would be reduced and an authority would be created to manage more than $2 billion in school construction funds.

The mayor’s administration would develop the school system’s budget and oversee the schools superintendent. The D.C. Council would have line-item veto power over the budget as well.

The proposal would require approval from both the council and Congress, and already has drawn heated objections from the school board and its newly elected president, Robert C. Bobb.

The board has pledged to oppose the takeover and plans to submit its own school governance plan to the council on Monday.

Mr. Fenty’s plan so far appears to have support from the majority of council members although some have stated objections to aspects of the plan, saying it could lead to schools becoming political bargaining chips.

The council has scheduled a series of public hearings to garner feedback on the proposal, with the next hearing set for Tuesday.

Mrs. Arlotto said the coalition plans to hold a reading of the proposal and roundtable discussion next Saturday and is flying in at least one witness to testify against a schools takeover at the Feb. 7 council hearing.

“I just feel like Fenty has yanked the rug out from under us,” she said.

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