Getting Down to Business
Even before Congress acts, Mayor Fenty must turn to the schools.
THE D.C. Council gave Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) a political victory in voting last week to put the city’s troubled schools in his hands. It will be a meaningless victory, though, if Mr. Fenty doesn’t deliver on his promise to create world-class schools from today’s tattered system. Enormous challenges await; failure will doom many more District children to lost futures.
The mayoral takeover was virtually assured when the council voted 9 to 2 in favor. But it’s not official until Congress gives its approval, and that creates a risky period of delay. Congress should move quickly, and city and school officials must cooperate — both in the transfer of power and on educational issues. Students are still in class, and the start of the next year gets closer each day.
Mr. Fenty has to be careful not to get ahead of the law, but he also can’t sit on his hands. The issues range from crumbling schools to troubled finances to poor student achievement. He showed the right sense of urgency in creating an education team within his administration. With the council having acted, it’s appropriate for Mr. Fenty and that team to start making decisions.
The first question is who will serve as school chancellor. The mayor’s reticence about whether he wants Superintendent Clifford B. Janey to continue was appropriate as long as council deliberations were underway. Now the mayor needs to sit down with Mr. Janey, if he hasn’t al- ready, for the heart-to-heart conversation on goals and methods that he has said must occur before he makes a decision. Mr. Fenty also should move to name an ombudsman, who will be an important bridge to parents, and someone to oversee the badly needed school repairs.
It’s encouraging that there already have been meetings between city and school officials, with both sides pledging cooperation. Board of Education President Robert C. Bobb, who had threatened to quit if the takeover went through, changed his mind and will serve on the revamped school board. Mr. Bobb is a capable manager with good ideas on improving education and keen insights into the failings of the current system. That Mr. Fenty welcomes his continued service is a credit to the mayor’s political maturity, given that Mr. Bobb was a fierce critic of his plan.
One reason for the council’s lopsided vote for the takeover was the excellent preparation of Mr. Fenty and his team. Credit also must go to Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), who ably led the members through months of inquiry and debate. Mr. Gray didn’t endorse the takeover when it was first unveiled. That neutrality, his insistence on extensive public hearings and his careful treatment of the issues helped produce a consensus for change and gave it added legitimacy. That Mr. Fenty and Mr. Gray performed so well bodes favorably for the very hard work of reforming the schools that lies ahead.