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La. Senator Blocked Vote On D.C. Schools Measure

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 22, 2007; B01

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu's office acknowledged yesterday that she has blocked a vote on D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's schools takeover legislation, citing concerns about the bill brought to her attention by Board of Education President Robert C. Bobb.

Scott Schneider, a spokesman for Landrieu (D-La.), said the senator wants to ensure that the District's state education functions operate with enough autonomy from the rest of the school system.

Landrieu and other senators have expressed concern for years that the city lacks a strong state oversight board in charge of standardized testing, teacher certification and other federally mandated programs.

She took the action last week at Bobb's request, Schneider said. The move shocked and angered the Fenty administration.

Fenty was attending a convention of shopping center developers in Las Vegas yesterday. In a statement, he said, "Any further delay to the implementation of our school reform act not only subverts the will of the elected government of the District of Columbia, it further delays the government's ability to prepare for the first day of school and other critical management decisions."

Bobb, the city administrator under Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), took over the school board in January. He initially fought Fenty's proposal to reduce the power of the board and place the mayor in charge of the 55,000-student school system. But Bobb positioned himself as a partner with the mayor after the takeover plan was approved by the D.C. Council last month.

In an interview yesterday, Bobb, who also was attending the Las Vegas shopping center convention, said he discussed the issue with Landrieu last week. But he played down the nature of his concerns and predicted that he and Fenty will be able to reach a compromise.

"We're not asking for a whole lot," Bobb said, declining to be specific about his concerns. "We're not in the process of upsetting the apple cart in any way."

Under Fenty's legislation, the mayor would be in charge of the superintendent, and the mayor and council would oversee the school system's budget and capital improvement program.

The current school board would be rechristened the State Board of Education, with oversight power for state-related functions. The board would be asked to approve decisions made by a state superintendent, chosen by Fenty, who would also "specify the Board's organizational structure, staff, budget, operations, reimbursement of expenses policy, and other matters affecting the Board's functions."

Fenty administration aides and Bobb said they expect to discuss the matter today, along with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.). The state superintendent would be separate from the school chancellor, who also would be chosen by Fenty and who would oversee day-to-day operations.

Schneider said that if an agreement is reached, Landrieu will consider withdrawing her concerns. "The senator fully supports the mayor's effort" to improve the schools, Schneider said. But "there needs to be an autonomous [state] agency. She put a hold on the bill to give the mayor's office and school board an opportunity to come up with an opportunity to resolve the issue."

Fenty's takeover bill amends the city's Home Rule Charter and requires congressional approval. The bill was approved by the House of Representatives two weeks ago, and it was "hotlined" in the Senate last week, meaning the legislation needs unanimous consent for approval.

But Landrieu blocked the bill last Tuesday, asking for time to review the legislation. She initially remained anonymous but made her objections known yesterday. Previously, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) placed a hold on the takeover bill because he was worried about the District's plan for a youth detention center in Anne Arundel County. Cardin withdrew his hold after negotiating with Norton.

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