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MAYORAL CONTROL A NO GO: Washington, D.C., Council Rejects Mayor’s Request for Management of City Schools

"A school chancellor or chief executive officer must have the full confidence and backing of the mayor, and be accountable to the mayor," Klein wrote in an op ed in the Washington Post.

On April 20, by a nine-to-four vote, the D.C. Council rejected legislation that would have placed Mayor Anthony Williams in direct control of the city’s school system, and instead decided to make every member of the school board an elected official. In defeating the mayor’s plan, several council members criticized Williams’s management of several city agencies, especially those that deal with children, which are already under his control.

If it had been accepted, the legislation would have given Williams the power to hire and fire the school superintendent (who would have been called chancellor) and would have allowed him to have the final say in all management issues of the 64,000-student school system.

In the days leading up to the vote, Mayor Williams received support from Joel I. Klein, chancellor of schools in New York City. Several years ago, New York City granted control of its school system to Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“A school chancellor or chief executive officer must have the full confidence and backing of the mayor, and be accountable to the mayor,” Klein wrote in an op ed in the Washington Post. “Why? The reality is that an entrenched school system develops its own hierarchy of beneficiaries, and it will stubbornly avoid accountability and resist change-even when change is critically needed and painfully obvious.”

Klein credited mayoral control of New York City’s schools for a streamlined administration that allowed transferring $250 million out of the bureaucracy and instead spending the money on math and literacy coaches, and on twelve hundred parent coordinators, who reached out to families and brought about greater involvement in their children’s education.

In a rally two days before the final vote, Mayor Williams said that if he were given control of the schools and did not meet certain measurable goals within one year, he would resign. Ultimately, that promise wasn’t enough to convince council members. As member Phil Mendelsontold the Washington Post, “The idea of change for change’s sake is foolhardy, and that’s really what’s underlying the proponents. . . . ‘We can’t do any worse, so let’s blow it up again.’ ”

The April 20 vote was preliminary; a final vote is not expected until May 4. However, the mayor has said that he would consider vetoing the plan for an all-elected panel. The council would have to come up with nine votes to override his veto.

Last week, the D.C. school board drew fire from a Washington Post editorial for approving a bonus of $33,750 to outgoing Interim Superintendent Elfreda W. Massie on her last day of work. “We would like to think that school board members would have taken the step of adding a $33,750 bonus to the $74,000 Ms. Massie had already earned, in five short months of work, only after they were absolutely certain that no child, teacher, or principal was being forced to do without the tools necessary for a proper education.”

Read “Williams’s School Plan Defeated”

“Give Schools to the Mayor”

“That School Board”

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