Coun­cil Pre­pares to Give Fenty Con­trol of Schools

Com­plete Takeover for Mayor Could Be Months in Mak­ing

The Washington Post Sunday - - Metro - By David Naka­mura and Nikita Ste­wart

In the three months since he pro­posed a dra­matic re­struc­tur­ing of the Dis­trict’s pub­lic school sys­tem, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has out­ma­neu­vered the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion, us­ing his po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal to shore up sup­port and turn­ing the con­test over his plan into a rout.

On Tues­day, the D. C. Coun­cil will con­sider the first step to­ward trans­fer­ring di­rect con­trol of the 55,000- stu­dent sys­tem to Fenty ( D). Al­though coun­cil mem­bers will of­fer amend­ments, the pri­mary tenets ap­pear set for ap­prov- al: The mayor will gain author­ity over the school su­per­in­ten­dent, the coun­cil will as­sume line- item con­trol over the bud­get and the school board will be­come a mostly ad­vi­sory panel.

It could be months be­fore Fenty takes full con­trol, be­cause the coun­cil is re­quired to take a sec­ond vote and then Congress must vote on chang­ing the city’s Home Rule Char­ter. But the ques­tion for city lead­ers and res­i­dents has be­come: Can Fenty move be­yond pol­i­tics and turn his pro­pos­als into con­crete im­prove­ments in the schools?

The takeover is likely to rep­re­sent the big­gest test and tough­est chal­lenge for the Fenty ad­min­is­tra­tion, which will in­herit an ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem plagued by an alarm­ing dropout rate, un­der- per­form­ing stu­dents and crum­bling, out­dated build­ings.

The mayor “ was clear from Day One what he wanted to do, and he’s done a good job pre­sent­ing his case,” said coun­cil mem­ber Jack Evans ( D-Ward 2), one of Fenty’s top al­lies. “ But im­ple­men­ta­tion is very hard. This sys­tem does not move eas­ily. . . . He’s ba­si­cally run­ning for of­fice again in two years, and he has to start show­ing im­prove­ments. He’s got

the con­trol. Now what do you do?”

For starters, Fenty has put into place a 12- mem­ber team un­der the city’s new De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion: Deputy Mayor Vic­tor A. Reinoso, a chief of staff, an ex­ec­u­tive as­sis­tant, five spe­cial as­sis­tants, three pol­icy an­a­lysts and a di­rec­tor of par­ent out­reach.

Reinoso, a for­mer school board mem­ber, said his pri­or­ity has been to work with coun­cil mem­bers to main­tain sup­port for the takeover leg­is­la­tion and min­i­mize the num­ber of amend­ments. But his staff has been lay­ing the ground­work for the takeover, pre­par­ing a plan for a school om­buds­man’s of­fice, work­ing with other city agen­cies to en­sure that they will sup­port the schools, and com­mu­ni­cat­ing the finer points of the leg­is­la­tion to the com­mu­nity and teach­ers’ union.

What’s not clear is when the Fenty team will be al­lowed to move in to make bud­get and per­son­nel de­ci­sions, in­clud­ing the big­gest one it faces: whether to keep Su­per­in­ten­dent Clifford B. Janey.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion

of­fi­cials want enough time to be sure school opens smoothly in the fall, and coun­cil mem­bers have been dis­cussing ways to main­tain an or­derly trans­fer of power. One method would be for the coun­cil to ap­prove an emer­gency mea­sure to award Fenty con­trol im­me­di­ately, un­til Congress acts.

In lieu of that, one ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said, Fenty’s team is hop­ing school board Pres­i­dent Robert C. Bobb would be will­ing to rec­og­nize the change in power af­ter the coun­cil votes and move aside un­der a “ gen­tle­men’s agree­ment.”

“ They could say no and not let us in,” said the of­fi­cial, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause the coun­cil has not voted. “ It could be that Septem­ber comes around and we’re still sit­ting there wait­ing.”

In an in­ter­view last week, Bobb did not ad­dress the time­line, say­ing he is fo­cused on his job.

“ I’m here. I’m not go­ing away,” he said. “ There’s work to be done. There is a need for lead­er­ship, and I in­tend to lead.”

In late Jan­uary, the school board at­tempted to lead, of­fer­ing its own plan to im­prove the schools and pledg­ing to make sig­nif­i­cant stu­dent per­for­mance gains in 18 months. But that pro­posal won lit­tle sup­port among coun­cil mem­bers or res­i­dents, who largely saw it as a re­ac­tion to Fenty.

By then, Fenty al­ready had been woo­ing coun­cil mem­bers. In De­cem­ber, he took them to New York to visit Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg ( R), who took over that city’s schools in 2002. Fenty also in­cluded de­mands from coun­cil mem­bers in his leg­is­la­tion, such as giv­ing them line- item bud­get con­trol.

When he an­nounced his takeover plan Jan. 4, a day af­ter tak­ing his pub­lic oath of of­fice, Fenty had nine of the coun­cil’s 11 mem­bers stand­ing with him. Phil Men­del­son ( D- At Large) and Carol Schwartz ( R- At Large) have con­sis­tently been op­posed.

Since then, the school sys­tem has suf­fered set­backs. Prob­lems with heat­ing sys­tems in sev­eral school build­ings in Fe­bru­ary high­lighted Janey’s slow pace on school mod­ern­iza­tion. The same month, au­di­tors hired by the city’s chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer ripped the sys­tem’s fi­nan­cial ac­count­ing. And last month, coun­cil mem­bers blasted Bobb and Janey for send­ing over $ 1 bil­lion in school con­struc­tion con­tracts for ap­proval with lit­tle doc­u­men­ta­tion about how the money would be spent.

“ Iron­i­cally, the school board and sys­tem were Adrian’s best al­lies, con­tin­u­ing to prove them­selves in­ept at ev­ery­thing they do,” Evans said.

Bobb bris­tled at that no­tion, sug­gest­ing crit­i­cism of the school sys­tem was overblown be­cause of the po­lit­i­cal fight over gov­er­nance.

“ Any small thing that hap­pens or that’s out of the or­di­nary in the school sys­tem be­comes mag­ni­fied,” he said.

Com­mu­nity ac­tivists op­posed to Fenty’s takeover tried to rally sup­port for the school sys­tem, but their ef­forts have not ig­nited broad op­po­si­tion.

“ We sat through 67 hours of [ pub­lic] hear­ings, and the peo­ple who ob­jected had no plan,” said coun­cil Chair­man Vin­cent C. Gray ( D), who was ini­tially un­com­mit­ted but now sup­ports Fenty’s takeover. “ What is the al­ter­na­tive?” Staff writer The­ola Labbé con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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