Gray, Catania have yet to discuss D.C. education issues

When he ran for mayor in 2010, Vincent C. Gray (D) argued he’d be able to have far better relations with the D.C. Council than his opponent, then-mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

When he lobbied to oversee education issues, council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), argued in December he could bring stakeholders together if Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) created a stand-alone Education Committee.

But five months after Catania was named chairman of the committee, he and Gray have yet to meet to discuss what both men consider the city’s most pressing issue.

“I’ve never had a conversation with him, to this day,” Gray told the Washington Post, though he added that the chairman has spoken to members of Gray’s staff.

Catania, who is considering running for mayor next year, said the lack of communication is not his fault.

“It may come as a surprise to the mayor, but the phone rings both ways,” said Catania. “I’ve been meeting frequently with the chancellor [Kaya Henderson] on the subject of education, and informed her of the items on my agenda. I think if [Gray] is interested in what we are doing, he can call me directly, and we can talk about them.”

The obvious tension between the two men could foreshadow a rough few weeks in the District government, as Gray and the council hurry to complete work on the fiscal 2014 budget, including $818 million in schools funding.

Though 2007 school reform legislation gave the mayor control over the schools, Catania is moving forward with aggressive oversight.

At a hearing on the D.C. Public Schools budget Thursday, Catania questioned several of the Gray administration’s school budgeting decisions. Among other concerns, Catania worried about scaled back summer school and reducing funds for some schools that have seen a dip in enrollment.

“You are left to defend a budget that in many ways is indefensible,” Catania told Henderson. “The responsibility for this budget rests with the mayor, and the mark you were given, you are left to defend it.”

Pedro Ribeiro, a Gray spokesman, notes that Gray is proposing an overall increase in the schools budget.

“Mr. Catania can’t be farther from the truth,” said Ribeiro, adding that Henderson is allowed to make specific decisions about how to allocate her budget.

As for not speaking with Catania about education, Ribeiro said the chairman met last week with Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith, the mayor’s point-person for school issues.

“The mayor meets with council members all the time,” Ribeiro said. “If Mr. Catania wants to meet with him, the mayor is on the sixth floor [of the John A. Wilson Building.]…He can walk up to the sixth floor. Why would the mayor call him?”

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.
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