Thursday, May 22

DC THURSDAY

WASHNGTON POST The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has declared Fort Reno Park safe after conducting its own tests for arsenic levels. It released its findings for the small federal park in Northwest that was closed last week after a scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey produced soil samples with dangerously high arsenic levels. But the EPA, the National Park Service and the District of Columbia government aren't sounding the all-clear bell just yet. There's a discrepancy in the results so the 33-acre site is remaining closed indefinitely. The EPA results conflict with those that closed the park last week. Those tests were conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey in April. And yesterday, the USGS was having more tests done at a lab in Denver.

DC EXAMINER The government's total failure to monitor the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation's $160 million building program over the past seven years exposed residents to safety risks and wasted taxpayer dollars by the millions, a damning new audit finds. The parks department paid management firms millions of dollars for work that may never have been done and allowed major projects to go forward despite poor planning, the inspector general found after a yearlong review. . . Parks officials' two outside project management firms, Jair Lynch/Alpha Consulting and The Temple Group, were illegally overpaid by millions of dollars because the Office of Contracting and Procurement could not account for task orders, the auditors found. The firms were overpaid by at least $2 million in fiscal 2004 alone, according to the audit. Another $16 million was paid for unauthorized invoices

JOEY DIGUGLIELMO, BLADE Fireworks erupted briefly at a Gertrude Stein Democratic Club endorsement meeting Monday night with incumbent Washington City Councilmember Yvette Alexander under attack from two long-time local gay activists. Bob Summersgill asked Alexander, who's straight, about gay marriage in D.C. Alexander had said previously that she supports civil unions but not marriage for gays. At Monday's meeting she said she was open to re-considering the issue but Summersgill hammered away, telling her she must consider gays "second class." "It's not a no," she said. "You're being awfully hard on me." After citing her Catholic faith, Alexander relented. "I guess I am [for gay marriage] because I'm for equal rights," she said. . . Rick Rosendall angrily told Alexander she'd betrayed the local gay community by not supporting gay Councilmember Jim Graham's one-time bar relocation bill that could give new life to gay bars displaced by the stadium. Alexander said she deferred to Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas on the matter since the relocation bill pertained to his ward. She also argued it wasn't "a gay bill" but Rosendall disagreed.

WASH TIMES Laurence Hewitt grew up playing basketball in the District and thought the stories he saw someday would become the basis for his writing. However, it was not until he met a young deaf child that he found the inspiration for his most successful work, "My Brother ... My Keeper," a film that debuts Saturday at the Lincoln Theater in Northwest. . . The story is about All-American high school basketball player Bernard Hill, who loses his hearing in a car accident, and the family and friends who help him rekindle his desire to play basketball again and prove his innocence related to a crime of which he was wrongly accused. . . The film was shot in the District and includes a deaf student and scenes from Gallaudet University - the largest liberal arts college in the United States for deaf and hard-of-hearing undergraduates.

SHIVONNE FOSTER, HILLTOP Nominated unanimously by the Presidential Search Committee, Bowling Green State University's first black president Sidney Ribeau, . . . assumes the position of 16th president of Howard University on August 1 . . . Under Ribeau's 13-year lead, Ohio-based Bowling Green was able to reach its $120 million national campaign goal in April--more than a year early. The campaign boasts a standing total of $30.7 million and seeks to reach out to a range of areas including endowed faculty chairs and an entrepreneurship program. . . Many students at Bowling Green recognized Ribeau for his leadership, and even noted his spouse's involvement at the university. "We love Dr. Ribeau," said Sara Johnson, a sophomore broadcast journalism major at Bowling Green. "Whatever he sees a need for on campus, he's not afraid to start the organization and get it going for students.". . . He has held many positions since the beginning of his career in education in 1976, and has worked at several universities. His former posts include professor of communications studies and then chair of the Pan African Studies Department at California State University in Los Angeles, dean of undergraduate studies at California State University in San Bernardina, and vice-president of academic affairs at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. The university's Presidential Search Committee, co-chaired by Gen. Colin Powell and Richard Parsons, led the nationwide search for the university's 16th president that began last spring when President Swygert announced his plans to retire in June 2008.

MARK SEGRAVES, WTOP The tens of thousands of commuters who drive into the District everyday to go to work should brace themselves for some additional costs. It's only a matter of time. It's true, the District of Columbia can't impose a commuter tax on Maryland and Virginia residents who work in the District. . . But, they can impose fees and parking taxes. A proposal before the D.C. Council, if passed, would impose a $25 per month fee on everyone who gets free parking at work. Council members Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and Phil Mendelson (D- At-Large), both of whom get free parking at work, aren't calling it a commuter tax. But others are, including the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, and former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner to name two.

OVERHEAD IN DC On the corner of 22nd and G near George Washington University: "Girl on phone: "Yeah, he couldn't get it up, so we just watched "Schindler's List" instead.". . . At 19th & L: First Women: When we moved into Arlington it was very hard for us; it felt like we were moving into a foreign world! Second Women: Oh my gosh, I can only imagine.

IN LOS ANGELES, OFFICIALS ESTIMATE THAT 80% of red light camera tickets go not to those running through intersections but to drivers making rolling right turns, a Times review has found. . . . One of the most powerful selling points for photo enforcement systems, which now monitor 175 intersections in Los Angeles County and hundreds more across the United States, has been the promise of reducing collisions caused by drivers barreling through red lights. But it is the right-turn infraction -- a frequently misunderstood and less pressing safety concern -- that drives tickets and revenue in the nation's second-biggest city and at least half a dozen others across the county. Some researchers and traffic engineers question the enforcement strategy. "I've never . . . seen any studies that suggest red light cameras would be a good safety intervention to reduce right-turning accidents," said Mark Burkey, a researcher at North Carolina A&T State University who has studied photo enforcement collision patterns. . . Federal Highway Administration research has found that cameras can reduce red light violations and broadside crashes but can also increase less serious rear-end accidents caused by people making sudden stops to avoid tickets. LA Times

GARY IMHOFF, DC WATCH Since thousands of years before Socrates corrupted his students, everyone has known that the best education is given by the best teachers. President James Garfield said, over a hundred years ago, "The ideal college is Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other." . . . But no one has ever figured out how to ensure that all teachers are even average, much less good and much, much less great. Only in the fictitious town of Lake Woebegon, Minnesota, are all children above average, and even there it's doubtful that all the teachers are, too. After all, by definition most of everything is average or, to put it less kindly, mediocre. Only a small percentage at either end is really bad or really great. Teaching is a harder job than most, so even fewer will be great at it. [Michelle] Rhee's implicit assumption that none of the superintendents before her tried to hire the best teachers they could get is arrogant, and her belief that she will do that much better than they in identifying and hiring great teachers displays the pride that goes before the fall. Months ago, the Government Accountability Office reported that the DC government had no real plan to improve our schools. If "hiring great teachers" is the chancellor's Plan A, then we still don't have a plan, unless Rhee has a Plan B she's not telling us about.

HAMIL R. HARRIS WASHINGTON POST With special services, prayers of thanksgiving and a march back to their humble beginnings, parishioners from St. Augustine Catholic Church, the city's oldest African American parish, marked their 150th anniversary. . . St. Augustine was founded as a chapel in 1858 after a group of freed slaves broke away from St. Matthew's Cathedral, the mother church of the Archdiocese of Washington. Four years later, the founding members of the church broke ground with their bare hands for what would become Martin De Porres Chapel. The parish has more than 3,000 members, continuing its founders' dedication to educating its members. "They built a school before they built the church," said the Rev. Patrick A. Smith, who said the school was established four years before the District mandated free public education for black children. St. Augustine grew through the Civil War and, in 1865, was recognized as a full Catholic parish. By 1876, a new building was dedicated at 1150 15th St. NW, the church's home until 1947, when the property was sold.

THE BARRACKS ROW MAIN STREET seeks an artist or artist team to design, create and install an urban mural for the SE Freeway overpass that divides the south end of 8th Street SE , now known as Barracks Row. The goal of this project is to create a unique landmark that expresses the character of the surrounding neighborhood. The large mural will help draw residents and non residents for repeated viewings to the area and reinforce a sense of place within this community. The theme for the art should be reflective of the history of Barracks Row as it connects with the Anacostia River, the Navy Yard, and/or the District's first commercial corridor along 8th Street. Graphic representations must include a transportation theme but may also incorporate nature scenes, waterfront scenes, commerce scenes, and architectural scenes, statuary. Info and application details

DC VOICES

ANDREA ROSEN In what world is firing without grounds--"such as receiving a poor evaluation or committing an act that subjects them to discipline"--considered appropriate? [Michelle] Rhee proposes to make teaching in D.C. like walking a tightrope. Do people do their best work with a sword hanging over their heads? Who does she think she'll be able to recruit into such a hostile environment, other than a gaggle of recent grads with Teach for America

D. DURHAM-VICHR After five years at Oyster my son can read and write at the same level as any "Spanish-speaking dominant" child can, though he cannot speak at the same level. This is typical. It is not [principal] Marta's fault. It is our culture's fault. The 50-50 balance is there at Oyster, at least on paper, but guess what? Paper is the only way it can be. By grade 2 at the least, the "Spanish-speaking dominant" children prefer to speak English. By grade 3, all are equal and the language of choice is English because we live in an English-speaking culture and there is no way to fix that other than to take Oyster out of the United States. No one addresses this fact, ever. But instead, it seems Rhee and her "experts" prefer to blame it on the principal.

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