Fenty Details Proposal To Take Over Schools

By David Nakamura and V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 5, 2007

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty proposed yesterday a dramatic restructuring of the D.C. public schools that would give him ultimate authority over the troubled system, create an independent agency in charge of a $2.3 billion capital construction budget and establish an ombudsman to investigate complaints from parents.

Flanked by nine members of the D.C. Council at a morning news conference, Fenty (D) pledged to stake his political future on the performance of the 58,000-student system if he gained control of it.

"There have been decades of failure," Fenty said in a crowded briefing room at the John A. Wilson Building. "There can be no more delay, no more broken promises."

Within hours, new Board of Education President Robert C. Bobb criticized the plan and threatened to resign if it is approved.

"Taking the board and making it an advisory board is not something we embrace," said Bobb, joined by three board members during a news conference at the board's headquarters in Northeast. "I did not run to serve in an advisory capacity."

The school board members said they were angry because Fenty did not include them in developing the proposal and did not brief them before his announcement. They said they learned about the details by watching a live broadcast of the conference.

Fenty's 48-page legislative proposal, which was prepared over the past two months, describes significant changes. The bill would give line-item budget control to the council and consolidate responsibility for all charter schools in the District -- which are overseen by two organizations -- under a sole entity, the D.C. Public Charter School Board.

The school construction authority would be headed by a chief executive appointed by the mayor and would be charged with speeding up the city's school modernization effort, which Fenty and others have said is too slow. It also would oversee routine maintenance and repairs. The authority would carry out a decision by Fenty and the "school chancellor" or superintendent to close about 20 underenrolled schools identified in School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey's master facilities plan.

The nine-seat Board of Education, now a mix of elected and appointed members, would be rechristened as a "state board of education," Fenty said. The board would lose all of its authority in overseeing day-to-day operations of schools but would retain its role in devising policies on such matters as standardized testing and teacher certification.

The proposal would require a change in the city's home rule charter, meaning that Fenty's legislation would need approval from the council and Congress. Fenty could have put the issue to a referendum but said he did not largely because he and six council members had just won an election in which voters called for drastic measures to improve the schools.

Most of the nine council members who joined Fenty yesterday said they support the main tenets of his proposal. Members Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) and Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), who have said they oppose a takeover, did not attend the briefing. Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) refrained from endorsing the bill but vowed to hold public hearings and schedule a vote quickly. "The question is, will our kids be better because of the changes we make?" Gray said. "That is the litmus test."

Fenty said he has briefed key congressional members, and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said yesterday that she would support the plan if the council approved it.

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