- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s takeover of D.C. Public Schools blurs the lines of accountability for school reform and places the D.C. Council in a role “fraught with political minefields,” according to a report commissioned by the council.

The 70-page report, compiled by the council’s Office of Policy Analysis and given to reporters yesterday, examines the specific roles of the council in education reform since Mr. Fenty’s takeover last year.

The takeover — which the council approved by a 9-2 vote in April — established the public school system as a Cabinet-level agency directly under the mayor’s control.

The report expresses concerns about the possible pitfalls that accompany the takeover, including that residents could have problems holding officials accountable because the takeover dispersed authority throughout the executivebranch and that the shift “enlarged the bureaucracy regarding public education.”

“This expansion may complicate decision-making as the roles and lines of authority and accountability are not clearly defined for all entities,” the report states.

The report says the takeover limits formal community input into the school-reform process, but also raises questions about the effectiveness of community involvement. It states the council should expect large budget requests from the executive branch on behalf of the schools.

The report also states Mr. Fenty, a Democrat, and his hand-picked schools chancellor, Michelle A. Rhee, have not openly shared with the council many of their priorities for the school system so far — which “could seriously undermine” the council’s oversight efforts this year.

Furthermore, council members who oppose the mayor’s initiatives can be viewed as opposing school reform, the report says.

“Any questioning of the progress or policies resultant from the mayor’s new powers may be viewed as obstructionist,” the report states.

Mr. Fenty has championed the takeover as a way to exact change in the classroom by reforming the school system from top to bottom, and said voters can now hold him solely accountable for the school system’s performance.

School system spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said Mrs. Rhee is reviewing the report.

The concerns in the report are similar to those expressed last year as the council considered the takeover and also to more recent complaints — including that the Fenty administration did not consult with the council before proposing the closure of 23 schools.

But the document says increased discussion between the council and the mayor — as the relationship “matures” — will “ultimately create better outcomes for students.”

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray said in response to the report that the council continues to work out its role under the governance shift and alongside the mayor’s office, but that members are still enthusiastic about the change.

“The members see themselves as having stepped out on this and obviously being an inherent part of this as it unfolds,” said Mr. Graya, a Democrat.

“We will continue to try to work with the mayor on these things.”

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