Williams Attacks City's 'Status Quo'
Mayor Pushes Plans to Take More Control Of D.C. Schools, Have Police Patrol Hallways
By Craig Timberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 6, 2004; Page B01
Mayor Anthony A. Williams touted five years of accomplishments in his State of the District address last night and vowed to continue his push for control over the city's public schools despite growing resistance on the D.C. Council.
Williams (D) called for police to take over security at public schools and for the creation of a CEO-style position of chancellor, appointed by the mayor and approved by the D.C. Council. The chancellor would have unprecedented powers to run a 64,200-student system that has among the nation's highest per-pupil spending and lowest test scores.
The new chancellor "is expected to shake things up immediately and replicate the bold ideas that are already working, from performance bonuses for good teachers and staff to small schools that challenge the myth that's still pervasive in our community that some students simply can't learn," Williams said.
He added: The chancellor "will be fully responsible for the budget, for policymaking and for day-to-day operations of our public school system. . . . This is going to allow all of us to place confidence in an extraordinary administrator, set the game plan, and then get out of the way and hold one leader accountable to show results."
The mayor's speech came several hours after D.C. Council members, meeting behind closed doors, reached a tentative consensus to resist his push for expanded authority over the school system. It is now run by a nine-member board, with four members appointed by the mayor and five elected. A major change, such as the creation of a chancellor position, would require a charter change.
Several council members said that there is a veto-proof majority to preserve the existing system until 2006. "It seems as if the hybrid [school board] is now jelling in a way which we had envisioned," said council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D).
As for the mayor's proposed changes, she said, "I don't see it happening in the near future."
Williams administration officials said they would go forward with their initiative and submit legislation within the next 10 days. They portrayed the council positions as fluid and said opponents of the mayor's changes were defending a flawed status quo.
In his speech, the mayor used the term "status quo" four times and said the schools face a deep crisis that threatens the city's social fabric and has chased middle-class parents to the suburbs.
Before a full but listless crowd at the historic Lincoln Theatre, the mayor's speech ran more than 70 minutes, drawing occasional applause. Several times, hecklers interrupted Williams, who delivered the speech slowly and almost casually as he leaned into a lectern.
The mayor has built his major annual speeches around education, each time vowing profound changes to fix a system that lags behind national measures of excellence in most categories.
Yet the schools have shown little obvious improvement. In December, the D.C.-based Council of the Great City Schools reported that the system had an "incoherent" instructional program and "abysmal results."
The mayor's inability to make improvements so far has become a liability in his fight to get more authority over schools, council members say. They note that since the mayor won the power to appoint school board members, several members have resigned in frustration and seats have remained unfilled for months at a time.
Williams attempted to address those concerns last night by portraying the problem as a structural failing that could be fixed by clear lines of accountability.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company