- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2007

The D.C. Board of Education yesterday approved an alternative plan to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s proposed takeover of the District’s struggling public school system, setting the stage for a possible legislative battle over who will lead the city’s school reform effort.

“The community really needs to have competing bills so that it can take a look and determine at the end of the day where it wants to support,” school board President Robert C. Bobb said. “All we’re doing is trying to inform that decision.”

Six members of the current school board — a hybrid of elected and appointed members — approved a resolution to submit its alternative legislation to the D.C. Council during an emergency meeting held at McKinley Tech High School in Northeast.

Board members said they hope council members will schedule hearings to publicly review the measure, as they have for Mr. Fenty’s proposal.

“It’s going to be the will of the citizens at the end of the day,” said William Lockridge, the school board’s Ward 7 and 8 representative.

The board’s nearly 30-page proposal would create an 18-month “student achievement emergency” and establish academic benchmarks that the board must meet by the end of that period.

It includes measures to increase the school system’s capacity for special education students, streamline the school budget process and give officials greater procurement powers to speed up facility repairs.

Mr. Bobb said the legislation contains changes intended to improve student achievement and result in 10 percent more students in specific grades testing as proficient or above at the end of the 18-month period.

He criticized Mr. Fenty’s proposal for focusing too much on who will run the school system instead of outlining concrete outcomes in the classroom.

“The mayor has proposed legislation that we believe will only add more bureaucracy to an already cumbersome process,” said Mr. Bobb, who met with Mr. Fenty yesterday morning to brief the mayor on the bill.

In a statement, Mr. Fenty said he plans to “move forward” with his legislation despite the board’s submission.

“If we are going to fix our school system, we need streamlined accountability,” he said. “In order to effectuate measurable change, the mayor of the District of Columbia must be held directly accountable for our public schools.”

The two proposals contain some similarities. Mr. Fenty’s plan would create a Department of Education headed by a deputy mayor responsible for oversight of the school system.

The board’s proposal also would create a State Department of Education headed by a deputy mayor, but the new agency only would be responsible for handling state education functions such as establishing school readiness guidelines and authorizing charter schools. Local authority would be retained by the school board.

The board’s proposal also would create a facilities oversight commission in charge of school modernization and would give the D.C. Council input in the school budget process.

However, the council would not be given line-item veto power, as it would in Mr. Fenty’s proposal. Mr. Bobb said the plan also would not require a change to the District’s Home Rule Charter.

Schools Superintendent Clifford B. Janey appeared with the board at yesterday’s meeting and stopped short of attacking Mr. Fenty’s plan, which would greatly reduce the school board’s overall role.

But he said the board’s proposal mirrors many of the goals he has set for the school system.

“This board has made a statement about being in the mix of accountability,” Mr. Janey said. “At the heart of what is in this plan is” a focus on student achievement.

No council members were at the meeting, a stark contrast to earlier this month when nine of them appeared at Mr. Fenty’s press conference where he made public his proposal.

Some members did have aides at the meeting to take notes.

Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, said some of the board’s ideas are laudable, but they did not address what he sees as the ultimate issue.

“It leaves the same structure in place that’s always been in place,” he said. “To me, that’s the problem that we have.”

The council is slated to hold its second public hearing on Mr. Fenty’s proposal today, and Mr. Bobb is scheduled to testify.

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