Fenty Poised to Reach For D.C. School Reins

By David Nakamura and Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, September 17, 2006

Democratic mayoral nominee Adrian M. Fenty is strongly considering a bid to take direct control of the District's ailing public school system, saying that D.C. voters want to see the next mayor do more than "tinkering around the edges."

Fenty plans to meet Tuesday with D.C. School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey, whom Fenty has criticized for moving too slowly since being hired two years ago. Fenty is also scheduling meetings with officials in New York City, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and schools chief Joel Klein, who have been credited with improving test scores and graduation rates in the nation's largest school system.

Bloomberg, with the blessing of the state legislature, took over the New York City schools six months into his tenure, established a city Department of Education, hired Klein as chancellor and reduced the city's boards of education to advisory panels -- a model that Fenty has admired.

"We're definitely leaning in that direction," Fenty said of a change in the governing structure of District schools. "I can't think of anything else we could do that would have a dramatic impact."

Fenty said he thinks that the New York model would probably succeed in Washington.

"It's hard to imagine it not working here. New York is 10 times as big as our system," said Fenty, the Ward 4 D.C. Council member, who still faces the general election in November. "When I talked with Joel Klein, he didn't even start the conversation without talking about direct accountability to the mayor. He was emphatic about that."

Fenty called fixing the District's school system his top priority, and the aggressive vision he outlined illustrates his belief that a chief executive must act quickly and decisively upon assuming office.

The school system is one of several agencies that Fenty has eyed for major changes. Others are the departments of police; fire and emergency medical services; corrections; personnel; contracting and procurement; permitting; and homeland security.

Fenty is to meet tomorrow with D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey. Fenty has said that the police department has improved in some areas during Ramsey's nine-year tenure, but in the campaign, Fenty was sharply critical of Ramsey's approach to neighborhood patrols.

Fenty was the only council member to vote against emergency crime legislation in July offered by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), which added 300 new officers, allowed surveillance cameras and imposed an earlier youth curfew. At the time, Fenty said that he wanted the police department to implement more systemic changes, although Ramsey has since credited the crime bill with helping to increase arrests and reduce homicides.

"The officers on the beat, for the most part, are doing a great job," Fenty said. "But too many are sitting behind desks, rather than walking the beat. And you can be in any neighborhood in the District of Columbia, and officers are sitting in their cars, driving. It's a management issue, from above, to instruct them to get out of the cars."

Ramsey, who has been chief since 1988, defended his record but said there is room for improvement.

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