Get­ting Down to Busi­ness

Even be­fore Congress acts, Mayor Fenty must turn to the schools.

The Washington Post Sunday - - Outlook -

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.

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