Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Fenty administration’s legislative proposal to restructure school governance would make the D.C. Board of Education, which now controls administrative, budgetary and policy matters, a state advisory panel, a move the board views as a demotion. While we do not hold that view, we do agree in principle with another announcement the board made last week.

As Mayor Fenty fine-tuned on Wednesday night his testimony for the next morning’s first of the D.C. Council’s public hearings on school reform, the board officially declared its opposition to the plan. The board’s resolution was hardly surprising, considering individual members, including Board President Robert Bobb, had already voiced their distaste for the Fenty proposal. What the mayor and other supporters of reform should appreciate, though, is the board’s announcement that it will develop its own proposal.

Without releasing details of the alternative plan, the board said it will submit its proposal to the council on Jan. 26 and hold a series of public hearings before voting on the plan in early March. The board’s timeline is interesting, since it mirrors the strategy of the council’s but for a key factor — that the board will vote on its version before the council votes on the mayor’s. With opposition already lined up against the Fenty legislation, it will be interesting to watch lawmakers reaffirm and reposition themselves on the issue of school reform. Indeed, before the January swearing-ins, the majority of council members supported Mr. Fenty, and the board was largely moot on the issue — with the exception of Mr. Bobb. The vote on Wednesday changed the dynamics, with members unanimously resolving to not only unite behind Mr. Bobb but to devise their own alternative plan.

The board’s isn’t the sole pitched voice in the debate, however. Mr. Fenty had to step down as Ward 4 council member to become mayor and Vincent Gray had to relinquish his Ward 7 seat to become council chairman. Now, several organizations, including the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations, are concerned that voters and other residents will not have a vote on the legislation because they no longer have ward representative on the council.

While that point must not be taken lightly, two facts practically render it moot. For starters, the mayor and each and every member of the council represent all residents — whether they were elected citywide or in one of the city’s eight political wards. Moreover, Mr. Fenty won the November general election by capturing all precincts, including those in Wards 4 and 7.

The school-reform debate is shaping up to be a nasty tug-of-war, running therisk of losing sight of its central mission, which is to improve the academic lot of students. The youth of the city can’t afford for Mr. Fenty, Mr. Gray and Mr. Bobb to let a power struggle over a “takeover” to distract them from reaching that goal.

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