Senate Approves D.C. School Takeover Plan

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The U.S. Senate unanimously approved D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's school takeover legislation yesterday after a hectic day of negotiations with city officials, leaving the mayor one signature away from taking control of the troubled public education system.

The bill awaits final authorization from President Bush, who could sign it by the end of the week, District leaders said. Under that scenario, Fenty (D) would assume authority over the 55,000-student school system by the end of the standard congressional review period, probably around June 14.

But even as the mayor drew nearer to completing his takeover, a new challenge emerged when the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics ruled in favor of a city resident who is seeking to force a referendum on the legislation.

Mary Spencer, who has grandchildren in the public school system, will have a chance to collect the roughly 20,000 signatures of registered voters she would need for a referendum. Spencer will have about one week to complete the task, beginning June 4, said William O'Field Jr., spokesman for the elections board.

If Spencer is successful, the takeover could be placed on the ballot for an August special election that has been scheduled to fill an open school board seat.

Fenty said in a statement that the city intends to challenge the elections board's ruling in court.

"We think the . . . decision is wrong and will be overturned," he said. "We remain focused on the substance of our education plans and look forward to having our education reform bill in place as soon as possible."

Fenty is seeking to reduce the power of the D.C. Board of Education and put himself in charge of the school superintendent, budget and capital program. The D.C. Council approved the bill last month, and the House of Representatives ratified it two weeks ago.

But the bill had a tougher course in the Senate, where it faced three challenges, including two that were resolved yesterday.

Fenty began the morning with a phone call to Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who had placed a hold on the legislation last week over concerns about whether the city's state education functions would have enough autonomy from the rest of the school system.

Landrieu lifted the hold after receiving assurances from Fenty that he and Board of Education President Robert C. Bobb, who had brought the issue to Landrieu's attention last week, would find a resolution after Fenty took over the schools.

Moments after Landrieu acquiesced, Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) placed the third Senate hold on the bill, exasperating D.C. leaders.

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