Tuesday, December 4

DC TUESDAY

FENTY'S NO SCHOOL LEFT TO FIND PLAN IS IN TROUBLE

IF YOU READ ABOUT A DOZEN paragraphs into one of the Post's stories, you'll find that by one estimate the school system deficit this year is up to $155 million. That's more than half the biggest citywide budget deficit of the Barry years. . . And the fun is just beginning. Fenty has already angered former allies Barry and Graham and Chancellor Rhee seems to be on her way to beating the self-destruction record of General Becton.

KATHRYN PEARSON-WEST - "We've been here, you just got here" was the chant from the audience in response to the D.C. Chancellor's plans to close up to nine schools in Ward 5, more than any elsewhere where at least one ward has no school closings proposed. The packed audience with people coming and going was ready to rumble. It made one proud to see that Ward 5 residents are not going to let their children be railroaded to other schools against their will.

One might expect the civic-minded, church going Ward 5 residents to be quiet and respectful, but their passion would not allow it. You even heard people talking about impeachment, though in D.C.'s case it would be a recall.

The administration wanted to do a divide and conquer approach and break into small groups. Ward 5 would have none of that. The intelligent crowd was on to that trick and stayed united.

The meeting began with a Power Point presentation until a Ward 5 resident at the mike in conjunction with the audience called for the dog and pony show to be shut down.

Listening to the responses from the administration, one wondered where they did their research. The meeting was held at Backus and there are apartment buildings going up all around the school and they want it to close.

Some observations and comments:

Would Ward 5 schools be better with quality programs and resources?

Would schools from another ward stay open if they eliminated the number of out-of-boundary students?

Why is the city so willing to dump nudie bars in Ward 5 and then close our schools?

Is the plan to pluck off the schools one by one so that the cluster of schools could be used for another purpose?

Is there a plan to close down schools and turn them over to developers? Do Ward 5 schools sit on prime real estate waiting for someone to turn them over?

Does D.C. need a $275,000 a year chancellor to close our schools?

Would residents prefer for their students to commute to nearby quality schools instead of having to travel across the city? Many schools proposed for closing are in vote-rich Upper Northeast Ward 5. Why vote if elected officials for the current crop if they are going to snub you by closing our schools?

Let there be no mistake. The crowd got ugly. They were angry and rightly so. This is just the beginning. Notice that the drama is beginning during the Christmas holiday season. That is probably by design.

Ward 5 is not going to be quiet and is not going to let anyone treat us like second rate citizens.

PHILIP BLAIR - I was proud - past proud - to live in Ward 5. I was proud of our Councilmember, Harry Thomas Jr., who handled a very difficult meeting with skill and wisdom. I was proud of my neighbors who are PTA presidents who so ably defended their own schools. I was proud of the parents who asked the right questions and who would not surrender their children's futures to the bureaucrats.

The community raised several issues that we should all be thinking about:

(1)Is it a good idea to consolidate ten grades (Pre-K through 8) in one building, essentially abolishing middle schools (or junior high schools)? This is a foundation of the administration's proposals; I have yet to meet a parent who thinks that this is a good idea (even though everyone recognizes that junior highs are hells on earth).

(2)Should well-functioning programs be uprooted and relocated? Is it even possible to successfully shuffle programs around from place to place?

(3)What is the right size for an elementary school, and does one size fit all?

(4)Where is the plan for managing an inventory of closed properties? Where are the criteria for deciding that public property is "excess" and disposable? Are school buildings available for adaptive reuse?or to house other community services (health services, for example) with education in a single building? How are specific location decisions being made? Burroughs Elementary, for example, just had a fair amount of physical upgrading; its students are now slated to be moved to the old Taft Junior High, with significant asbestos problems which, we can imagine, will not be taken care of by next September?

(5)What happens to the promises (for math coaches and full time librarians and nurses and other improvements if the consolidation plans fall though?

Rhee, Reinoso, and their posse were very unimpressive. After their Power Point presentations (which were largely unreadable anyway) were shouted down, they had astoundingly little ability to defend their plans or themselves. If they hadn't blindsided the community and even Councilmembers, they wouldn't have been standing around like deer in the headlights last night.

WASHINGTON POST - The meeting rapidly grew heated when angry parents from John Burroughs Elementary School shouted over Abigail Smith, a staff member from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education, as she explained in a Power Point presentation the demographics that influenced how the 23 schools were selected. Thomas took the microphone and attempted to quiet the crowd, but he, too, was jeered.

"Why should we listen to you?" said a parent who, clutching her toddler daughter, jumped up and confronted the council member. "You didn't listen to us! Did you call me? Did you ask me?". . .

Clarence Cherry, president of the John Burroughs Elementary PTA, listed accomplishments at the school, including a successful autism program, national accreditation and the fact that students met reading and math benchmarks on standardized tests last year.

"Why would you put something that works together with something that is not working?" Cherry demanded, referring to the plan to merge Burroughs students and other Ward 5 students into a new pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school at Taft Center.

Rhee stoically listened to the parental concerns. "I understand completely where you're coming from," she said. "I want you to express any insight and information to help us.". . .

MARC BORBELY, FIX OUR SCHOOLS - Contrary to the messages we're getting from Fenty/Rhee/Reinoso, the proposed school closing list is not some neutral, scientific, value-free product. Rather, I've learned, after speaking with the contractor in charge of producing the criteria for Deputy Mayor for Education Victor Reinoso, that it is the result of dozens of policy decisions, many apparently arbitrary choices and a decent dose of corruption.

One of those policy decisions, made early on, was that the schools in Ward 3 should be protected. These schools have relatively higher test scores, a whiter and richer student body and PTAs that raise tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. 21st Century School Fund, Brookings Institution, and the Urban Institute were hired to provide Victor Reinoso with school closing criteria.

After considering various possible criteria, they proposed that Reinoso start with a list of the forty schools that have a below-average enrollment, and a higher than average enrollment decline over the past five years. A decision was made to close small schools, because those are the most expensive to run per pupil -- but only those that were significantly larger five years ago. This knocks out the small Ward 3 schools, which are small because they are in small buildings and so could not have been larger five years ago.

Another decision was made not to look initially at the percentage of students who live close to the school (one thought was to consider whether a high percentage of students live more than half a mile away, for instance). This too saved Ward 3 schools. Decision-makers (perhaps wisely) don't want to lose Ward 3 parents from DCPS or from the District. They should be upfront about this. Yes, Ward 3 schools are full, but only because of the out-of-boundary process, driven by the much greater resources in Ward 3 schools. Instead of closing schools where most students live, DCPS could choose to invest in them. Most people would much rather send their children to their neighborhood school than drive them across town.

Once presented with the list of forty schools, Reinoso proceeded to take twenty-four schools off the list and add seven others, for various individual school-specific reasons. According to Mary Filardo, executive director of the 21st Century School Fund, the nonprofits, Hine Junior High School for example, at Eastern Market, was added to the school closure list because Councilmember Wells wanted it closed. Brookland Elementary School was taken off the list because it is next to a rec center, but similarly valid reasons could be found to keep almost any school open. Major changes to the fabric of a community should not be made arbitrarily, without real dialogue with those affected.

UNION CITY - Reform of DC public schools has been hijacked by Mayor Fenty and his gang of outside consultants and contractors. They want to close schools without public input, fire front-line employees without cause, and turn our schools over to outside contractors. Mayor Fenty promised District residents inclusive change, but has now turned a deaf ear to the ideas and concerns of parents, community leaders and the city council, who all want better schools for our children.

Public opposition to Fenty's "decide-then-consult" approach to school reforms is growing daily. DC Council members are outraged by Fenty's pattern of notifying them at the last minute of his latest school reform legislation. Unions are coalescing to introduce fair, reasonable school reforms that respect the voice of the people and our elected officials,

MARC DEAN MILLOT, ED BUZZ -
Fenty and Rhee have created the impression that kids are their first priority - and that's both admirable and right. But they've also created the impression that they have no respect for any other stakeholder group.

Some argue that Adrian Fenty carefully avoided direct discussions of any intent to take control of DC schools during his mayoral campaign, and found the extent of his subsequent proposal surprising. The Mayor definitely sprung the Chancellor on the City Council. Since then I have read the Washington Post quote her sweeping accusations against her entire central office at public meetings. On The News Hour I've watched the Chancellor act with great personal disrespect towards her staff and principals. It's hard for me to find the right word for berating employees en masse in staff meetings and firing a principal over the phone - in front of the camera for subsequent national distribution. It's somewhere between unmannerly and boorish but, above all else, exercising the power of office to engage in public humiliation is not leadership.

On local radio station WAMU, I have repeatedly heard Rhee say she doesn't really have much empathy for central office staff and teachers that may be let go. Even if she truly feels that way, it's hardly helpful to sound so cold - even incompetent criminals have families.

I have watched her and the Mayor spring on employees, parents and the City Council: 1) an unprecedented plan to turn school district staff into at-will employees, answerable only to the Chancellor's personal view of performance; 2) school management by at least one organization tied to Chancellor; 3) a vast school closure and consolidation plan; and 4) a series unpleasant budget problems.

In the name of streamlining the school system, the Mayor has put into place a management structure with several independent sources of operational authority: a facilities czar, a "state" education agency, a chancellor, a deputy mayor, a vestigal but not entirely toothless school board, and now an ombudsman. It will take two years to reshuffle all the staff and activities, and the moves don't appear to be on schedule.

The Deputy Mayor cribbed the city's plan from Charlotte-Mecklenberg, literally lifting whole sections. I'm less worried about the plagiarism than the fact that a plan created by "cut and paste" has no real constituency. . .

What I see in Chancellor Rhee's approach, abetted, permitted or endorsed by Mayor Fenty, is 1) insensitivity and arrogance towards others, combined with 2) a reliance on fear to control staff, and 3) a considerable willingness not to apply analogous performance criteria and public criticism to themselves. Managers cannot be harder and hasher with others than they are on themselves and expect support from their staff, respect from their board, or trust from the public. And managers without all three cannot succeed in a turn-around.

Of special importance is the relationship between management and staff. Managers who single out poor performers and make certain they are removed by due process send a very different message from those who suggest that every staff member's honesty and competence is a matter of debate and bypass protections against arbitrary dismissal. By choosing the latter, the Mayor and Chancellor have turned the troops against them and made it that much harder to improve the schools. . .

RICHARD LAYMAN, URBAN PLACES & SPACES
- Arlington County utilizes public assets as augurs of community revitalization, and fully intends to accomplish more than one task with their public assets. A good example is the Thomas Jefferson Jr. HS, which also has a theater with at least one resident company, an exposition center (indoor track capable of being used for events), arts and fitness facilities, etc., in addition to the school facilities. I don't think we have one exposition center in the city comparable to the one at Jefferson, certainly not one that is open to the public. Or they reconstructed the Shirlington branch library to include facilities for the Signature Theatre. (Takoma Park has a combined library and city hall, maybe with other functions too, I think.)

But we don't have these kinds of discussions generally within the city. Each agency sees its public assets as its own property portfolio, not so much the citizens property of which it is the steward and charged with maximizing total public benefit to the citizens. The last thing on the agenda is maximizing return on investment and the use of capital.

WASHINGTON POST -
The mayor had just finished briefing the D.C. Council on his plan to close 23 schools next year when one member objected to being left out of the decision making. Don't forget, Jim Graham reminded Fenty, that you can't sell the buildings without the council's approval.

"Are you threatening me?" Fenty responded, according to people in the room. When Graham tried to diffuse the tension, Fenty "just brushed Graham off," one council member said. A short time later, when Marion Barry attempted to give the mayor advice on his governing style, Fenty cut him off twice, prompting Barry to curse at him, Barry said. . .

This power struggle over who is in charge of school reform has played out in other big cities. In New York, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) bypassed the council and won approval from the state legislature to take control of the schools, but he has been criticized for shutting parents out of the process. In Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa (D) was unsuccessful in winning political approval to take over the system. . .

Only four council members -- David A. Catania (I-At Large), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) -- joined Fenty at a news conference to announce the plan after the breakfast meeting. . .

Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who voted against the takeover and has been a vocal critic of Fenty, said the council's pushback last week could become a defining moment.

"The mayor's testiness was a surprise. I think the criticism from some of the allies was also a surprise," Mendelson said, adding that members must decide "whether the council . . . is willing to put up with this kind of governance. If the members are willing to continue to be an afterthought, that's how it will work for the next few years."

Fenty's dust-up with Barry (D-Ward 8) and Graham (D-Ward 1) was especially notable because they were the only two council members to endorse his mayoral bid. Last week, Barry said Fenty is "acting like a dictator. He doesn't bring us in unless he needs us."

GINA ARLOTTO, SAVE OUR SCHOOLS - I attended a meeting the other night where I learned that, shockingly, 40% of all current DCPS students will either be in a consolidated/closed school or in one undergoing restructuring as required by NCLB.

MARC BORBELY, FIX OUR SCHOOLS Was curious whether any of the schools whose PTAs raise serious money ended up on the school closing list. Here's a list of all the elementary and middle schools whose PTAs reported their spending to the IRS (Nonprofits that raise more than $25,000 have to file a Form 990)

Ward School 2005 Spending by PTA

HYDE $22,008
DEAL $118,042
STODDERT $161,736
KEY $182,628
MURCH $228,173
EATON $298,757
MANN $337,683
JANNEY $406,427
OYSTER $446,164
HEARST $44,029 (2004)
SHEPHERD $54,941 (2004)
LAFAYETTE $261,087
CAP HILL CLUSTER $76,041 (2001)


AN ALTERNATIVE TO LOSING ST. ELIZABETH'S TO THE HOMELAND SECURITY

N.J. SLABBERT, WASHINGTON POST -
On Nov. 2, The Post reported that the National Capital Planning Commission has found that a large new headquarters in Anacostia for the Department of Homeland Security "would overwhelm the historic hilltop site in Anacostia where it would be built." But that's not the whole story.

This new compound would pose an unnecessary security risk to DHS and is questionable financially, environmentally and logistically. I would urge DHS officials to revisit an alternative 2004 plan supported by Adm. William A. Owens, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

I reviewed the alternative plan for the Harvard International Review, Urban Land Magazine and Maryland's Department of Business and Economic Development. The 2004 plan, proposed by former Defense Department planner Alan Feinberg and systems engineer Jay Hellman, avoids a Pentagon-style headquarters and would distribute DHS workplaces throughout Maryland, Virginia and elsewhere. It envisions DHS's headquarters as a small, high-security "front office," not a huge complex dependent on a horde of daily commuters.

Commonly, telework means that some staffers sometimes work remotely. Under the Hellman-Feinberg plan, DHS employees would staff regional workplaces full time, linked to headquarters around the clock by the Internet. This nationally replicable plan offers benefits for security, efficiency, budget savings, the environment, transportation and working conditions.

For example, La Plata was studied as a prototype teleworking hub. Many of La Plata's 8,400-plus residents work in Washington and drive 30 miles twice a day on congested roads. But four intersecting fiber-optic networks make a La Plata broadband grid possible immediately. La Plata has heralded technological change twice. It was born in 1888 after Pennsylvania Railroad Co. trains began serving the area. Then, as tobacco farming dwindled, highways let La Platans work further out. Now, as a model e-burb, La Plata could spearhead small-town revitalization as teleworkers transform bedroom communities into round-the-clock, functioning small towns. . .

DHS and area officials should revisit the 2004 plan. The agency should commission a geographic information system map, displaying potential work sites, infrastructure, workforce distribution and other data. This would help assess the potential to regionalize DHS workplaces. The results would illuminate more options than the agency thinks it has.

[Slabbert is a researcher for the Europe-based Truman Group and is an adviser to the Telework Coalition]


WHITE STUDENT LEADS GEORGETOWN NAACP

RUTH SAMUELSON, CITY PAPER - More than 100 people turned out for an all-day Jena Six rally and candlelight vigil on campus. Students wore black T-shirts to show solidarity. . . Georgetown's NAACP chapter, which organized the event, was back. For years, the group was alternately inactive, disappointing, and even sort-of defunct. Now with President Ellie Gunderson in charge, things were starting to happen. . .

Gunderson's from a predominantly black working-class suburb of Detroit; she aspires to be a civil rights lawyer, either at the Southern Poverty Law Center or the NAACP; she never planned to be the group's president this year, but someone nominated her, and she cared about the issues. She figured, Why not?

One last thing: Gunderson is white. Listen to her speak, and you might never know. Her vocal inflection is unmistakably "urban.". . .

Gunderson's election last year unsettled some black students. The community was in crisis mode, and then, here comes a white girl to lead up the on-campus chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Symbolically, that didn't look too good.

"Some people don't know that white people were a part of the formation of the NAACP," says group treasurer Brown. "Even if they do know, they may want a black leader."

But by the start of this school year, the contentious mood within the black community had died down. . .


PASSINGS: HOTEL WASHINGTON

THE HOTEL WASHINGTON is going to be euthanized by the Starwood chain that is now managing the site and plans to call it W Hotel when it reopens in 2009. Aside from pleasant evenings on the roof, our memories include the day when Walter Washington announced in 1974 that he was running for mayor after serving as appointed mayor-commissioner. It was an impressive announcement but it was already clear he was headed for trouble for as we left the hotel, we found it surrounded with double-parked cars of supporters attending the news conference. A dutiful cop was placing parking tickets on each of the cars.

FROM THE HOTEL'S HISTORY

- Even as the hotel's steel framework rose in September of 1917, President Woodrow Wilson reviewed District of Columbia troops marching down Pennsylvania Avenue on their way to war. In the ensuing years, parade after parade has passed the hotel's door.

- Many, such as Vice President John Nance Garner, Justice Frank Murphy and Speaker of the House John McCormack chose The Hotel Washington as their residence while in office. A former employee recalls a time when fifty congressmen and five senators called the hotel home.

- Convening Shriners cantered through the hotel's lobby on horseback celebrating the repeal of Prohibition.

- The National Turkey resided at The Hotel Washington each year on the night before he visited the White House on Thanksgiving


DC SHORTS

EAVESDROP DC - "They gave me a digital camera, so I used it...but I don't know how to develop it." - Man at the Vietnam Memorial. . . "What is wrong with you?! SERIOUSLY!!! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?! Why would you get an English bulldog and name it Boris Yeltsin?"- 30 something woman on cellphone in Falls Church

LOCAL CARTOGRAPHER (AND GREEN ACTIVIST) Nikolas Schiller is selling an unusual Washington Area Calendar. You'll find the images and details on his site

JANITORS HIT STREETS: Hundreds of area janitors demanding new contracts will hit the streets of downtown DC on December 11 More than 10,000 janitors in the District, Montgomery County, Northern Virginia and Baltimore are affected by the contract negotiations now taking place between SEIU 32BJ and area employers. "In addition to improving healthcare and training for our members, we're looking at some significant wage and benefit increases," reports District Chair Jaime Contreras. With a December 27 deadline looming, the janitors are already mobilizing in each area, Contreras tells UNION CITY, with the December 11 action expected to draw upwards of 1,000 janitors and their supporters.

CURRENT - The D.C. Public Library is looking for volunteers with expertise in bookbinding or paper conservation — or just those who wouldn't mind doing some light filing and photocopying. The volunteers will be helping to restore the Peabody collection of historic Georgetown documents, which suffered damage before being rescued from the April 30 fire at the Georgetown library. Texas contractor Belfor Property Restoration returned the 9,000-pound paper-and-photograph collection on Nov. 16 after freezing and drying the documents. The downtown Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library will house the collection until 2010, when the newly rebuilt Georgetown library is scheduled to reopen. . .


BULLETIN BOARD

The American Monetary Institute is sponsoring a free monetary seminar on Friday, December 7th from 6:30 to 9 pm, at Busboys & Poets restaurant, 2021 14th St. NW. Reservations appreciated but not necessary. Call 224-805 2200 or email ami@taconic.net

The American Monetary Institute is America's leading think tank focusing on monetary history, theory and reform. Each September we hold a 3 day monetary reform conference in Chicago at Roosevelt University, where cutting edge experts speak on those subjects.

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