D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) on Thursday announced changes to the legislative body that would give him greater oversight of education, following a year of school scandals.
As part of new committee announcements, Mendelson announced that the Committee of the Whole that he chairs will share the responsibility of overseeing D.C. Public Schools and charter schools with the Committee on Education.
The move comes after some activists criticized the education panel chaired by D.C. Council Member David Grosso (I-At Large) for failing to hold school officials accountable. In the last year, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) ousted her top two education officials due to ethics concerns and the school system came under investigation over fraudulent graduation rates.
Mendelson’s move has the effect of diluting Grosso’s influence over education matters, but he declined to say if he had concerns over Grosso’s tenure or say if the education committee conducted proper oversight.
“I look at this as increasing the prioritization of improving education on the council,” said Mendelson, who was re-elected in November. “What I heard quite a bit this year was concern about how the public education system is not moving fast enough or far enough with improvement. But that doesn’t speak to the existing committee, that speaks to the problem of education.”
Grosso, who learned about the change this afternoon, said he had no objections.
“The chairman and I have worked together over the past couple of years anyway and almost everything I do has always been in colloboration with him,” said Grosso. “I don’t have a problem. I think it’s good for education overall.”
Mendelson in 2012 restored a stand-alone Committee on Education in one of his first acts as chairman.
Committees are the initial hurdle for legislation, where hearings are held and the first votes are cast. They also provide an opportunity to scrutinize and investigate city agencies.
Mendelson said voters signaled they didn’t want change by re-electing every incumbent in November.
As a result, he did not strip or reassign any lawmakers of their committee chairmanships. But he did create new committees to be chaired by the two freshmen lawmakers first elected in 2016, Robert White (D-Ward At Large) and Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8).
Robert White will be chairman of the new facilities and procurement panel that oversees the powerful Department of General Services, which manages city property and land deals. Council member Mary M. Cheh previously oversaw the agency and investigated alleged favorable treatment for a major campaign donor to the mayor. Under Cheh’s leadership, the committee concluded the administration took extraordinary steps to appease the donor, Fort Myer Construction.
Trayon White, who drew scrutiny after spreading conspiracy theories earlier this year, will lead the new Committee on Recreation and Youth Affairs, which will oversee the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Deputy Mayor for Economic Opportunity, a position created by Bowser to focus on revitalizing Southeast D.C.