Mayor Adrian Fenty was a no-show at the highly anticipated June 28 debate that was slated to focus on the state of the city’s troubled public schools system.

According to the District of Columbia Chapter of Young Education Professionals, which sponsored the “Great Education Forum,” Fenty was expected to spar with his chief opponent in the mayoral race, City Council Chairman Vincent Gray.

Stakes ran high, as more than 200 people jammed a downtown meeting hall, that the pair would battle it out on a matter that has long plagued the city. For instance, despite Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s comments in recent months regarding improvement in the system, according to the “The Nation’s Report Card: Trial Urban District Assessment Reading 2009” released last month,  the District’s fourth- and eighth-graders have been  listed among students nationwide with the lowest test score averages.

Rhee, on the other hand, has credited the system for garnering improved state mandated student test scores.  In addition, her controversial reform plan calls for the recruitment of better qualified teachers and revamped school buildings in order to boost learning. 

 Fenty’s camp reportedly sent word late on June 27 that although the mayor had never confirmed his participation, he had considered another date for the forum.

Jennifer Nguyen, a mayor’s office staffer, told the AFRO she would try to get a response from Fenty on why he skipped the event.  But she had not called back by press time. 

Gray spokeswoman Doxie McCoy said the chairman was disappointed Fenty chose not to attend the forum.

“He wondered why he missed an opportunity to discuss the very important issue of educating our children,” McCoy said.

She said Gray appreciated that the young educators still provided him with an audience to talk one-on-one about how he and the Council have moved public education reform forward. 

The chairman, who has been a staunch critic of the manner in which Fenty and Rhee embarked on a  swift schools reformation program  in 2007, also welcomed the chance to discuss issues such as his groundbreaking pre-kindergarten legislation, efforts at transparency and ensuring public input in DCPS matters, McCoy said.