New Chief Lashes Out at Takeover Proposal

New President Robert C. Bobb, left, and members William Lockridge and Lisa Raymond. A proposal would shift some school board duties to the mayor.
New President Robert C. Bobb, left, and members William Lockridge and Lisa Raymond. A proposal would shift some school board duties to the mayor. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 4, 2007

Robert C. Bobb had been sworn in as president of the D.C. Board of Education only minutes earlier, but he was in no mood for celebrating last night. Instead, he strongly opposed a proposal by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) to strip the panel of much of its power, saying "we don't need to reinvent" the city's school system, "we need to make it work."

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have a structure in place that has been approved by the voters of the District of Columbia. . . . Singularly focusing on school governance is not the answer," Bobb told about 150 city leaders, school officials and community representatives at the Charles Sumner School museum in Northwest Washington.

Today, Fenty will propose taking over all local responsibilities now assumed by School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey and the school board, such as overseeing principals and teachers, sources said. Under the new mayor's plan, the school board would continue setting policy for functions traditionally overseen by states, such as learning standards and student assessment.

Two other elected school board members sworn in last night addressed the governance issue in interviews.

William Lockridge, who was reelected to his fourth term representing District 4, predicted that board members and some community members would resist a takeover.

"When home rule came in, the citizens wanted an independent school board," Lockridge said. "None of us [board members] ran for the game to be switched."

Lisa Raymond (District 3), a political newcomer, said she would wait to hear Fenty's proposal before commenting on it.

However, she added: "I do think it's important to have community representation. I want to make sure -- for the people who elected me -- that I'm able to represent their concerns."

The board members are taking office at an important time. The number of schools that failed to make adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law rose in the spring from 80 to 118, and enrollment continues to slide by thousands every year.

At the same time, though, the system has been allocated more than $2 billion to repair crumbling schools, and Janey has introduced ambitious plans to improve student achievement.

In a 20-minute speech, Bobb, the District's former city administrator, said there are other ways besides a mayoral takeover to improve education.

Bobb called for the school system to spend $100 million immediately to repair dilapidated school restrooms and urged another allocation to beef up school libraries.

He recommended that city officials declare a "reading emergency," urging them to send a team of reading specialists to schools, playgrounds and recreation centers to help children improve their skills. He also demanded that city officials provide comprehensive health services for children from birth to age 5 so they would be ready to read when they reach kindergarten.

He vowed to maintain an open government and to cut back on private meetings. He said board members will meet Saturday to determine their response to Fenty's proposal.

Staff writer Elissa Silverman contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company