Most on Council Back Fenty's Takeover Plan

By Nikita Stewart and David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 28, 2007

At the last of seven public hearings yesterday on Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's plan to take over the D.C. public schools, a majority of D.C. Council members voiced approval for the proposal, but several also indicated support for giving the Board of Education more power than Fenty (D) intended.

Several council members suggested that they favor amendments that could allow the board, instead of the mayor, to appoint a chief state education officer and a school ombudsman.

Fenty's testimony brought a series of exhaustive public hearings to a close. "I must say that I'm glad that it's about to be over," said council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1). "It's time. It really is time to act. No need for further studies. . . . Now, it's up to the council. Let's go."

But council members first had questions and recommendations for Fenty yesterday -- three hours' worth.

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) was the first member to suggest that the school board could hire the state education officer who would oversee early childhood education, adult education, health requirements and other matters. "This would allow not only an elected board to stay in place . . . but it also would give, I think, some real authority," he said.

Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) suggested giving the school board more control by giving it more to oversee. "I do think there is something to be said for assigning more state education responsibility to the state board of education, whether that is things from graduation requirements to curriculum to teacher education standards, so on," he said. "That won't inhibit your ability to run the schools themselves."

Some residents have called for a referendum on the plan. Others have asked Gray to delay the vote on the issue until after the May 1 special election to fill the unexpired terms of Gray, the former Ward 7 council member, and Fenty, the former Ward 4 council member, so that those communities are represented. Council members do not seem inclined to grant either request.

Gray said he plans to schedule a vote for April, using next month to make amendments that council members recommend.

In an interview after the hearing, Fenty said he will spend the next month lobbying the council. "My job is to keep convincing the council," he said. "I never count votes before they happen."

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