D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray questioned the wisdom of his potential successor Wednesday, saying he was dumbfounded by council member Muriel E. Bowser’s pronouncement that she might redraw school boundaries without input from the city’s chancellor of schools.
Bowser, the Democratic nominee for mayor, opened a wide gulf on education policy this week with Gray and Chancellor Kaya Henderson, whom Bowser has vowed to keep on if elected in November. Bowser said she would undo the first school boundary revamp in 40 years. Bowser said the product of a 10-month effort by Gray’s administration, and that has been praised as recently as Monday by Henderson, was not ready for implementation.
In an interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday, Bowser said she would restart the boundary review if elected, and the effort might well fall outside of Henderson’s purview.
“The system is our system; it belongs to the residents of the District of Columbia,” Bowser said. “If you go back to the beginning of this process, the chancellor of schools was not involved in this process. . . . I don’t anticipate that the chancellor of schools will be involved in the boundary process moving forward.”
Gray blasted that idea. “That’s a not a very wise move in my opinion,” he said during a previously scheduled news conference Wednesday. “Why would you exclude the chancellor who is the head of our public education system from such an important process? I believe she [Bowser] was the one who asked the chancellor to stay.”
Gray said that despite the warning that his party’s nominee would as mayor undo the plan, he would push forward with implementing the boundary overhaul, which could affect where tens of thousands of District children attend class.
By next week, school principals will be sending home copies of their school’s new attendance boundaries in children’s backpacks, along with descriptions of how they will be phased in, according to Gray’s aides. New maps are being uploaded to the city’s Web site, and by the time the online school lottery opens in December, families will apply for schools based on the new boundaries.
“I think people ought to get off of politics and stick to the substantive aspects of this,” Gray said, noting that he saw Bowser over the weekend at an event to prepare for the first day of school and she said nothing to him about the overhaul plan, which he finalized last week.
“They had 10 months, actually 40-some years to participate,” Gray said. “The council had a hearing on this that was convened by council member [David A.] Catania, so in the interest of our families and in the interest of our children, let’s do the substantive work of how our children go to school.”
Catania, who is also running for mayor as an Independent, said Monday that he would delay implementation of the boundaries for at least one year. He said he did not support Gray’s plan in part because it would move some students from higher-performing schools to lower-performing ones.
Gray’s “recommendations are silent as to how we intend to improve those lower-performing schools,” Catania said. “Asking parents and guardians to take this leap of faith without more is asking too much.”
Bowser’s position on the boundary overhaul shifted significantly on the course of two days this week.
In an interview Monday, Bowser would only say that one aspect of Gray’s plan was “problematic.” That was boundary changes that reinforced geographic divisions, such as cutting off parts of her own Ward 4 east of Rock Creek Park, from attending Alice Deal Middle School and Wilson High School, to the west of it. Similarly, she said she did not like halting boundaries along the Anacostia River, keeping some students from traveling west of the river as they do now to attend better-performing schools.
On Tuesday, Bowser went further. She issued a statement calling the entire plan “not ready.” She said Gray’s boundary revamp would exacerbate inequality and lacked “necessary budgetary and leadership commitments” to bring about fair school assignments.
Catania’s campaign criticized Bowser for following his lead on seeking a delay on the boundary plan.
Bowser’s opposition was not entirely unexpected. She had said in May that she didn’t support any of three previous boundary revisions that Gray was considering.
But Bowser said her push to entirely restart the process set her apart from Catania.
On Monday, the District’s first day of school, Henderson had praised the boundary overhaul as a much-needed transformation of a “hodge-podge system.”
“I’m quite excited about it,” she said.
Asked whether he had yet decided if he would vote for Bowser, his party’s nominee, Gray said he had not.
Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.