He also shrugged off the suggestion that his bill should have paved the way for a more comprehensive approach to facilities planning, saying that the measure was only meant to ensure that the city observes existing law giving charters right of first refusal to DCPS buildings.
“It was never introduced as a way to reach nirvana for public facility planning,” he said.
Catania seemed more open to an argument from Matthew Frumin, a parent and former candidate for D.C. Council, that the bill should require charter schools, like DCPS, to share data on facilities use and future needs.
“That could be very powerful,” Catania said. “I think it will help illustrate for planning purposes what’s coming down the pike.”
Activists want greater independence for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.
A provision in Catania’s governance bill would make the State Superintendent of Education dismissible only for cause and by vote of the State Board of Education.
It’s a wonky tweak that Ken Archer, a D.C. parent who contributes to the blog Greater Greater Washington, argues would make a big difference, insulating OSSE from the mayor and giving the agency greater latitude to make politically difficult decisions on issues such as closing schools and investigating cheating.
Greg Masucci, a parent of a special-needs child, also spoke in favor of the measure.
Masucci is battling the school system, arguing that his son is regressing in public school and has a legal right to a private-school placement. He argued that OSSE hearing officers charged with deciding such cases cannot be unbiased when they work for a mayor who came into office promising to cut the number of private placements in half by 2014.
D.C. officials have said that the city’s schools are equipped to serve more children with disabilities than in the past, and that it’s often in those students’ best interest to integrate with non-disabled children in public schools. They oppose Catania’s measure, arguing that it infringes on mayoral control of the schools.
Activists also support Catania’s parent engagement bill — but say it doesn’t go far enough.
Catania’s bill would establish a new “office of the student advocate” that would run four parent education centers across the city, offering help navigating traditional and charter schools. It would also more sharply define the role of a public education ombudsman, charged with mediating disputes between families and schools.
Activists praised those measures Monday but said that in the age of mayoral control of the schools, officials need to do much more to ensure that parents have a voice in shaping policy decisions that have major implications for families.
Right now, city officials are talking about overhauling school boundaries and establishing a unified lottery for charter and traditional schools, said longtime activist Cathy Reilly — but no one has explained how or whether the public will have a chance to weigh in.
“We are not empowered,” Reilly said. “We are only empowered to comment afterwards.”
Tuesday’s Education Committee hearing will is scheduled for 9 a.m. in room 500 of the Wilson Building.