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Williams Softening Schools Proposal

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By Justin Blum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 25, 2004

Mayor Anthony A. Williams is reworking his plan to take control of the D.C. school system in an effort to generate more support among council members who rejected an earlier version of the proposal last week.

According to his aides, Williams (D) now wants to create a school board that would handle matters normally overseen by state boards of education while still giving himself direct control of the 64,200-student school system.

The new proposal is similar to the measure rejected by the D.C. Council in that it would grant the mayor the power to hire and fire the superintendent. But unlike the earlier plan, which would have made the school board advisory, the new proposal would give some power to elected board members.

Kelvin J. Robinson, the mayor's chief of staff, said the new plan would establish a "state board of education" that would include elected and appointed members who would set broad policy over issues, such as teacher certification and the minimum number of credits needed for graduation. Those policies would apply to all public schools in the city, including charter schools, and mirror the duties of state boards of education.

The school board would lose its local powers, which include crafting budgets and setting systemwide policies.

The new proposal is designed to address the concerns of council members who rejected the mayor's plan Tuesday in a 9 to 4 vote. That plan would have preserved an elected school board but stripped all of its power, making it an advisory body to the mayor.

The mayor and his staff plan to meet with council members and may make slight adjustments to attract more support, officials said.

"We're going to shop the proposal and see if the way that this is now crafted will address the concerns that were raised," Robinson said. "I have a lot of members who voted no saying they're intrigued by the idea."

Several council members who voted Tuesday against the mayor's plan said they would be willing to consider the latest proposal.

Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7), who chairs the council's education committee, said he wanted to talk to the mayor and his staff before making up his mind. However, he said the council was wary of the ongoing debate about school oversight that is needed to bring resolution to the issue.

Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) said he, too, would need to hear and examine details from the mayor before reaching a decision.

"At some point we've got to bring closure to all of this," Graham said. "Here we are just a couple of days after we made a decision, and here's a radically different state board of education."


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