Mayor's School Takeover Defeated
Council Approves Measure to Keep The Status Quo
By Justin Blum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 19, 2004; Page B01
The D.C. Council gave final approval yesterday to legislation that would keep the city's school oversight structure intact, but aides to Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said he plans to veto the bill and continue his push for more control over the school system.
By a vote of 7 to 6, the council passed a measure that would preserve the "hybrid" school board -- a mix of five elected members and four mayoral appointees -- until 2006, after which the board would become an all-elected body.
But Gregory McCarthy, the mayor's deputy chief of staff, said yesterday's vote was a victory for Williams because the same proposal passed the council by a much wider margin, 11 to 2, in a preliminary vote last month.
"This is an indictment of the status quo," McCarthy said.
Williams now has enough votes to sustain a veto of the measure, the mayor's staff said. Nine votes are needed to override a mayoral veto.
After vetoing the bill, Williams will press the council to adopt a plan under which the superintendent of schools would report to the mayor instead of the school board, said Kelvin J. Robinson, the mayor's chief of staff.
Williams has been seeking that change since September. His first proposal would have turned the school board into an advisory body. After the council voted down that idea on April 20, he modified his plan, proposing that he oversee the superintendent but that the board retain some powers. The revised plan was not introduced at yesterday's council meeting; Robinson said the mayor wanted more time to make his case for it before putting it to a vote.
Voters approved the current hybrid school board in a 2000 referendum. The hybrid system expires this year, requiring the mayor and council to reach a decision on whether to renew or change it.
During yesterday's council debate, opponents of a mayoral takeover of schools reiterated their arguments that Williams has not used the power he already has to bring improvement to the troubled 64,200-student system and that he has mismanaged other city agencies.
As a fresh example of Williams's lack of engagement on education issues, two council members -- Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) and Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) -- faulted the mayor for not being available on Sunday when a top candidate for D.C. superintendent wanted to contact him. The candidate, former New York City schools chancellor Rudolph F. Crew, accepted the top schools job in Miami-Dade County on Monday.
According to several council members, Crew told officials involved in the search process on Sunday night that he wanted to speak with the mayor on the phone. Williams was at a conference in Rome.
Chavous, who chairs the council's education committee, said that finding a quality superintendent is how the school system will be improved -- not by changing the oversight structure -- and that Williams's presence could have helped persuade Crew to come to the District.
"I strongly believe that had the mayor been more aggressive in responding to and reaching out to Rudy Crew, there's a good chance he would have been our next superintendent," Chavous said.
Crew did not return a phone message left yesterday at the Northern California foundation where he works.
Mayoral spokesman Tony Bullock said that Crew had been given phone numbers to reach Williams in Italy. In addition, he said, Williams had spoken with Crew by phone on Friday and offered his support. Last week, Williams told reporters that he wanted to bring Crew to the city, and the mayor had participated in an earlier interview with Crew.
"This is a childish effort on the part of some members of the council and the school board to pin blame on the mayor as if a single phone call would have provided a different outcome," Bullock said. "It's a theory without any basis in fact."
Bullock said the mayor had long planned to attend the third annual "Glocalization" conference in Rome, which brings together local leaders to discuss international issues. Williams was due back yesterday.
Williams has argued that giving him direct control of the schools would clarify who is accountable for their performance and help improve a system whose test scores are among the lowest in the nation.
The following council members voted for the legislation that preserves the current school board until 2006 and then makes the board all-elected: Chavous, Schwartz, Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D), Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) and Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8).
Voting against the measure were David A. Catania (R-At Large), Harold Brazil (D-At Large), Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) and Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6).
In last month's vote on the measure, only Evans and Orange voted no.
Graham, one of the council members who switched sides, criticized the school system yesterday for spending $25 million for computer software that is not operational and ridiculed the school board for giving a bonus of $33,750 to the former interim superintendent for five months' work.
"My disillusionment with the hybrid [board] has crystallized," Graham said.
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