City Leaders Take Debate to Florida

Adrian Fenty plans to meet with the Miami-Dade County schools chief.
Adrian Fenty plans to meet with the Miami-Dade County schools chief. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By David Nakamura and Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 30, 2006

D.C. Mayor-elect Adrian M. Fenty and incoming council Chairman Vincent C. Gray are paying separate visits to Florida this week for meetings with Miami-Dade County school Superintendent Rudolph F. Crew, a key adviser in Fenty's campaign to win control of the District's struggling public education system.

Fenty (D) said he expects Crew to offer advice on urban school reform, but the trip also appears to be designed to help convince Gray (D) that a change in school governance is needed.

District officials were ready to hire Crew as D.C. superintendent in 2004, but he withdrew from the selection process to accept the Miami-Dade position. Crew was said to have balked at the structure of the District's school administration, which includes oversight by Congress, the D.C. Council, the mayor, the city's chief financial officer and a Board of Education composed of appointed and elected members.

Fenty is leaning toward a proposal that would turn the school board into an advisory panel and require that the superintendent report to the mayor's office, a change that would require approval of the 13-member D.C. Council.

"We're going down to learn more about best practices as we continue to formulate our plans," said Fenty, who plans to meet with Crew tomorrow.

"It's an opportunity to see another school system," said Gray, who was to be in Miami today. "They've obviously had the same problems as other urban communities."

The trips come days after D.C. School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey delivered an impassioned State of the Schools address outlining the improvement initiatives he has implemented since taking the post in 2004.

Fenty, who first met with Crew in Miami on Memorial Day, is said to be "enthralled" with the superintendent's work, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. Fenty sees Crew as an ideal schools chief who has moved rapidly to improve one of the country's largest school systems, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the takeover proposal is pending.

Miami-Dade's estimated school enrollment of 366,000 is more than six times greater than that of D.C. schools.

In his first few months in Miami, according to published reports, Crew negotiated a new contract with the local teacher's union that included incentives for teaching in troubled schools, streamlined the district's budget process, eliminated hundreds of non-instructional positions and overhauled 39 chronically failing schools. Crew was not available for comment yesterday.

Fenty's opinion of Crew contrasts sharply with his view of Janey. Fenty has said that Janey, who won the D.C. job after Crew pulled out of contention, has moved too slowly in improving the District's 58,000-student school system.

Fenty declined again yesterday to address what Janey's future would be if he wins control of the system. Fenty said he is focused on determining what governance model will best serve students rather than the debate over who should lead.

During his address Tuesday night at McKinley Technology High School in Northeast Washington, Janey said pointedly that he expects to be around "for the long haul," drawing sustained applause from the hundreds in attendance, including Fenty, Gray and incoming school board president Robert C. Bobb.

Asked about Janey yesterday, Gray made note of the applause and stressed that the trip to Miami should not be viewed as an expression of a lack of confidence in Janey.

Next week, Fenty, Janey and Gray, along with several other council members, will travel to New York to meet with school Chancellor Joel I. Klein and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (R), who took control of that city's school system in 2002.

D.C. school board member Victor A. Reinoso, who was appointed Fenty's deputy mayor for education, also will join Fenty and Gray in Miami and New York.

"Our interest is seeing an urban district that appears to be moving quickly," Reinoso said. "We want to see what they are up to and what are the early indicators that can show what an executive branch can do to accelerate reform."

Staff writer V. Dion Haynes contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company