Bowser opposes new D.C. school boundaries plan; Catania calls for delay


Democratic mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser, Wednesday August 13, 2014. (Photo by J. Lawler Duggan/For Capital Business) (J. Lawler Duggan/For Capital Business)

D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser said she opposes the new school boundaries plan that Mayor Vincent C. Gray adopted last week and said the process should be restarted under the next mayor.

“The Mayor’s plan on school boundary changes is not ready,” she said in a press statement. “His plan serves to exacerbate educational inequality and does little to move school reform forward faster.”

The plan, 10 months in the making by a citizens-advisory committee, is the first comprehensive overhaul of the city’s school boundaries in more than 40 years and redraws attendance zones for tens of thousands of families. Some parents have criticized the process and called for it to stop until a new mayor is elected. Bowser defeated Gray in the Democratic mayoral primary.

On Monday, at-large council member David Catania, who is also running for mayor as an independent, issued a statement saying he would seek to delay implementation of the boundaries plan for one year. Catania chairs the council’s education committee.

“If not properly executed, the proposed changes will undermine the fragile confidence that parents and guardians have in our public school system,” he said.

Catania said that he supports many aspects of the proposal, including its adherence to neighborhood schools, but that it needs to be more specific in how it will improve school quality across the District.

“I have maintained all along that I cannot support a plan that moves students from higher performing schools to lower performing ones,” he said.

Former council member Carol Schwartz, who is also running for mayor as an independent, had called for a delay in the boundaries plan earlier this summer. But after Gray adopted the plan, she said in an interview that she did not know how the decision could be reversed.

Some of the most vocal opponents of the plan live in Bowser’s district and were rezoned from Alice Deal Middle School and Wilson High School into a lower performing high school and a middle school that has not yet been opened.

Bowser said the plan lacks the “necessary budgetary and leadership commitments to bring about a truly fair neighborhood school assignment policy.”

She said: “Only the next Mayor can address the plan’s unanswered questions, inherent inequalities across neighborhoods, and with the new Council, address significant budgetary implications.”

If elected mayor, she said her first budget will reflect a “commitment to make every school high performing,” she said. “Then, and only then, will we advance meaningful school reform.”

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in the Washington region.
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