- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The U.S. Senate last night passed D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s school takeover legislation, hours after two senators released holds on the bill.

Mr. Fenty thanked lawmakers for “taking swift action on the critical issue of education reform.” The bill, which was required to pass the Senate unanimously, still needs the signature of President Bush.

Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, blocked Mr. Fenty’s legislation May 15 over concerns that the District’s state education functions would not be independent from the rest of the school system as required by federal law.

“It’s basically so the people who are taking the tests aren’t the same people that grade [them],” Landrieu spokesman Scott Schneider said.

Board of Education President Robert C. Bobb, who initially opposed Mr. Fenty’s plan, brought the concern to Mrs. Landrieu, who then placed a hold on the bill.

The senator removed the hold after speaking with Mr. Fenty yesterday and “receiving assurances that the two parties would come to an agreement about how to solve the accountability issue,” Mr. Schneider said.

But Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, then placed an additional hold on the Fenty bill for a short time before withdrawing it. A spokeswoman in Mr. Levin’s office did not provide a reason for the hold, and Fenty spokeswoman Carrie Brooks said the senator “withdrew his objection,” but “he didn’t clarify why” a hold was placed on the bill.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, said Mr. Levin’s concerns were unrelated to education and possibly concerned placing meters in taxicabs.

“Senator Levin has written Mayor Adrian Fenty concerning this issue, and I will advise the mayor to call the senator concerning the mayor’s response,” Mrs. Norton said.

Mr. Fenty’s proposal, which required congressional approval because it changes the District’s Home Rule Charter, also was delayed when Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, held up the bill because of a dispute with the District over the city’s juvenile detention center located in Anne Arundel County.

Meanwhile, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics (BOEE) yesterday agreed with the grandmother of a public-school student who contended that portions of Mr. Fenty’s plan can be subjected to a voter referendum.

The decision means Mary Spencer will have about one week, expected to begin in early June, to gather about 20,000 signatures in support of bringing the school takeover to a vote, officials said.

According to D.C. law, if proponents of the referendum gather the proper number of valid signatures, a special election on the issue must be held within 114 days of the signatures’ certification.

But the amount of time proponents have to gather the signatures could be reduced if the board’s decision is appealed, and the Fenty administration does plan to challenge the ruling.

“We think the BOEE’s decision is wrong and will be overturned,” Mr. Fenty said. “We remain focused on the substance of our education plans and look forward to having our education reform bill in place as soon as possible to begin managing the day-to-day operations of our school system.”

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