Just days after being sworn into office, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty made waves when he proposed a plan to overhaul the D.C. public school system. The proposed plan, which would essentially give him control of the school board, has caused a backlash from many residents. The new plan would give the mayor control of the $2.3 billion construction budget as well as essentially reduce the current school board officials to advisory positions with little power. If passed, the proposal will give ultimate budget authority to the D.C. Council as well as combine responsibility for charter schools under the new school board. The school board unanimously adopted a resolution opposing Fenty’s restructuring plan. “There have been decades of failure,” Mayor Fenty said in announcing his education initiative during his first week in office. “There can be no more delay, no more broken promises.” Gina Arlotto, cofounder of the Save our Schools Coalition, is suspicious of Fenty’s plan. “The mayor’s only true intent is to control the school budget and buildings,” Arlotto said in an interview. “That’s the only logical reason I could up with that would explain his radical takeover.” Arlotto, a parent of three and a resident of Ward 6, believes that the restructuring plan would do more harm than good for the schools in the area. “Control of the budget is the driving force behind this proposal,” she said. “I can’t help but feel that the precious money will be frittered away by cronyism and patronage.” The newly elected Board of Education President Robert C. Bobb would not have the chance to make any real contributions to the current state of the District’s schools if the takeover plan is implemented. The school board would essentially have power only over issues such as standardized testing. Any proposals it makes would have to be approved by the mayor and council. “It’s like the mayor is bullying his way into position when the school board already has the task of focusing solely on the state of education for our children,” said Lissette Thumper, a mother of two who attend Garfield Elementary School in the Garfield Heights area. “I don’t even see why he would want to take this on, in addition to everything else that he has on his plate now.” Many residents feel as if they were left out of the decision and that they deserve a say in their children’s education. Fenty is seeking Congressional and council approval, bypassing a vote by District residents. His plan would also require a change to D.C.’s home rule charter. D.C. Council is holding a series of public hearings on the proposal. The next one will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 13, in room 500 of the Council Chamber, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W. “I would feel better if we were able to vote on it or something,” Thumper said. “Personally I would like to see what the current school board has to offer, and then make a decision on whether Fenty should take charge.”
Arlotto said: “I happen to like elections and the will of the people, because I respect our democracy; the mayor obviously does not.”
However, some District residents believe that the mayor’s plan might not harm a system that’s already troubled. “It can’t make the system any worse,” said Marcel Williams, a D.C. resident. “I approve of his plan if he poses an effective solution.”
Benjamin McSwain, another resident, agrees. “Give it a try, because it might make the system better,” McSwain said. “It might improve scores, quality of education, the system as a whole.” Arlotto believes that Fenty’s plan is damaging. “The mayor has completely eradicated our elected school board,” she said. “Maybe he should put his own children in a D.C. public school, and I don’t mean a charter school. That way we’ll all see your commitment to change the system from within and everyone in the city and the school system will feel the urgency because that is where you have chose[n] to send your kids.”
Additional reporting by Kanita Danielle Mason.
To read Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s testimony before D.C. Council on his proposed District of Columbia Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007, click ontohttp://dc.gov/mayor/news/release.asp?cp=1&id=1043