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Government and People
|This is the full text of the
D.C. mayor’s State of the District address, as prepared for delivery.
Good evening to each of you and thank you so much for being here tonight.
This week marks the beginning of the Annual Cherry Blossom Festival and Celebration. As many of you know, the Cherry Blossoms were a gift to our city from the nation of Japan. This year, we dedicate our festival to those affected by the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. I ask that we pause for a moment of silence for them.
Let me begin by offering my sincerest thanks to the students who participated in this evening’s program. The young voices of the Oyster-Adams Bilingual Elementary School were beautiful. And the music of our Wilson Senior High School Jazz Ambassadors and DC Youth Orchestra Flute Choir demonstrates the great talents of our young people, Youth Mayor, David Williams of St. Johns College High School and Eastern High School Senior Doretha Minor, thank you for the warm greetings. You are our future leaders.
To the other program participants, Tenor Issachah Savage, Reverend Alisa Lasater Wailoo, Pastor of Capitol Hill United Methodist Church and Reverend Charles Koo, Pastor of the Chinese Community Church - thank you. JC Hayward, what can I say -- you are the best!
I also offer thanks and appreciation to our distinguished public servants who are with us tonight.
My heart-felt gratitude is extended to our very own, Eleanor Holmes Norton, my friend and our warrior on the Hill. There are few people I’ve met in my life who have her kind of commitment, intellect and persistence. She earns—and deserves—our unending respect.
And to my colleague, Kwame Brown who, just 12 weeks ago, joined me to take his oath of office as Council Chairman. Thank you for your service.
I am grateful to be joined this evening by members of the Council of the District of Columbia. I had the privilege of serving alongside these leaders as Chairman of the Council, and I can tell you first-hand there isn’t a harder-working legislative body in the nation.
Chief Judge Eric Washington, Chief Judge Lee Satterfield and the members of the judicial branch of government, the service you render each day is respected and appreciated. We have already begun to strengthen these working relationships.
ANC commissioners and other civic leaders from across this city, who have joined us this evening, thank you for your dedication and service. Members of the diplomatic corps, I thank you for taking the time to be here this evening, as well.
I’d also like to acknowledge the members of my cabinet who are here. One of my campaign promises was to find a strong cabinet dedicated to serving the city, and I believe we are meeting that goal. Please join me in acknowledging these leaders.
To the State of the District Planning Committee, thank you for your dedication and commitment to making this evening possible.
I extend warm greetings to our many wonderful senior citizens, my personal friends and my family, especially my children, who are here with me this evening.
Finally, to my many supporters and most of all, the residents of the District of Columbia – Good evening!
Principal Chisholm, thank you for the privilege of being here at Eastern High School, the “Pride of Capitol Hill”. We’re grateful to you and the students for hosting us and giving us the chance to see the stunning transformation that has taken place here.
Just look at this facility: it has an impressive array of technology; a thriving arts culture; a cyber café; the health and medical sciences academy; the international baccalaureate program; and advanced placement courses. It’s the home of the DC Youth Orchestra, and even has a working ambulance inside the building where students receive EMT training.
As someone who grew up watching the city transform, what impresses me about the renovation of this school is that every effort was made to balance the school’s classic architectural treasures with its new cutting-edge classrooms and facilities. It’s tough not to be struck by the fact that these structures, even the grand staircase at the building’s entrance, and the stage I stand on, were first built 88 years ago—in 1923.
What impressed me most about the Eastern renovation is that it engaged literally hundreds of community voices, everyone from local residents, to alumni, to the Georgetown School of Medicine, to the Mount Moriah Baptist Church, to name a few. I cannot think of a more brilliant take-off for a school than to have so many thoughtful and respected voices at the launching pad. I know that if we are to succeed as a city and meet the challenges we face, then this model of including as many voices as possible must be central to how we grow.
As they have done at this school, we must build on our past and focus our energy on creating tomorrow’s triumphs. Tonight we gather to reflect on what those triumphs might be: the State of the District is our occasion to pause from our daily labor, think hard about our city’s future, and offer a vision of the great achievements that tomorrow will bring.
At my very core, I believe in a District of Columbia that is “One City” -- where all of our citizens, all of our leaders, all of our wards and neighborhoods, all of our social and racial and economic groups come together to make our city a more livable, workable, prosperous, compassionate, global capital.
Imagine a District of Columbia where our schools are the best in the nation; where every schoolhouse, whether traditional or public charter, is well-resourced, well-run, and well-recognized for its success. The kind of school system that rewards its teachers for their hard work and where the real rewards come in the form of helping our youth grow to their full potential.
Envision a city where everyone who wants to earn a decent living can do so; where anyone can become an active member of their communities and of society, and can contribute to the betterment of their fellow citizens. Imagine for a moment a District of Columbia that boldly stands not only as the world’s political center, but also as its technology capital.
Imagine with me for a moment a thriving commercial hub in our city—the ideal environment for people of enterprise to bring their ideas to life; a city that has an equal share of vibrant small businesses and vital corporations; a city that acts as a magnet for the world’s top talent.
Imagine the District of Columbia as the 51st State where residents enjoy the full privileges of democracy and self-determination—just like every other citizen in the United States of America.
Picture with me a Washington where the government is lean and efficient—the kind that supports businesses, places of worship, schools, and non-profits; envision a government that makes every tax dollar go as far as it possibly can. It’s a government in which public servants recognize the value of the trust bestowed upon them and carry out their responsibilities with humility, dedication and pride.
Above all, it is a compassionate government—one that takes as its most urgent task the welfare of the least fortunate among us; one that gives our homeless both shelter and a permanent path to a normal life; one that treats our residents with disabilities with dignity and one that provides for veterans who return from war after putting their lives on the line in service to this country.
Do you see what I see? We are making progress. Our schools are on their way to becoming centers of excellence: nearly every school in the District is undergoing or will experience the kind of renovation that you see here at Eastern. Our school enrollment has increased for the first time in 41 years—a statistic that should give us all a great deal of pride.
As of last month, we are the first city in the nation to offer on-demand treatment for those newly diagnosed with HIV and we’ve established an HIV/AIDS Commission that will aggressively address this issue. Our Department of Health is implementing other immediate and practical steps to confront our city’s HIV crisis head-on, including HIV education for healthcare professionals and engaging federal authorities to help ex-offenders returning to the District who might be HIV positive.
Recently, we were named the happiest city in America. Just this month, it was announced that, when ranked alongside every other state in the nation, the District of Columbia has the most LEED-certified green buildings per capita. Also this month, we were named the most socially networked city in America. [And yes, I am tweeting and am on Facebook]. According to industry estimates, we are the nation’s fastest-growing retail market. And here’s one to be truly proud of: we have the honor of being known as both the smartest city in the country and the fittest—so don’t ever let anyone tell you that beauty and brains can’t co-exist!
The 2010 Census data we received last week had some good news: For the first time in 60 years, the population of our city has grown from one census to the next. Almost 20 thousand new residents have made D.C. their home in the last decade. And we now have more than 600 thousand residents! People are finding the District of Columbia an attractive place to live, and are moving back to our city – increasing our tax base and infusing our city with new vibrancy, life and creativity. But as we grow, we also need to be sure that our city is a place where those who have been here for many years continue to have the chance to live.
We have much to be proud of and much to look forward to. But yet, something feels curious about this litany of successes. We must consider a painfully obvious fact: the city that wins these accolades isn’t the same one that many of you wake up to each day.
The truth is that the growth in our city has been a miracle for some —and a mirage for others. For those left behind, the picture I have just painted of the city’s success is not a self-portrait, but something closer to a foreign landscape; you can gaze at it admiringly, but it doesn’t look anything like your neck of the woods.
The facts are troubling, but they bear acknowledging: there are parts of this city where over half of our high school students do not graduate. In some neighborhoods, one out of every three adults is unemployed. Of those who are working, one-fifth earn less than $11 per hour in wages. Twenty percent of our citizens live below the poverty line—a number that has actually gone up over the last few years, even though the city’s overall economic activity has increased.
At its widest, the Anacostia River spans barely half a mile —but when you pass over it, it can feel like you’ve left one continent for another. In a city that has been growing, the child poverty rate east of the river is double, yes, double!—the national average. In the healthiest city in America, the rate of HIV/AIDS infection east of the river is as severe as it is in Africa; it’s the highest rate of infection in the United States by a wide margin. In a city that has been ranked as the third-best location for chefs nationwide, we have a grand total of five sit-down restaurants east of the river – two in Ward 7 and three in Ward 8. That might not seem important, but it matters because with so few restaurants serving fresh food and with so few grocery stores where food can be purchased, families struggle each day to ensure their children eat nutritiously—and in some cases, just eat.
Let’s be clear: my intention is not to pit one part of the city against another. I don’t believe in that kind of division. I too am proud of our successes west of the river, and I know those triumphs encompass the hard work of many people in this room. But I do believe that too many of us have operated under the false assumption that a rising tide therefore would lift all boats.
Many of the most urgent, troubling issues that face our city find their origin east of the Anacostia River, and they have persisted even as other parts of the city have prospered. In fact, in the most recent census, we learned the hard truth: the population west of the river is growing, while east of the river it is stagnating or shrinking. These census numbers speak to the importance of developing more amenities east of the Anacostia River so that as we grow, current residents will be able to remain in the District. All residents – newly arrived and longstanding alike – should enjoy an outstanding quality of life no matter what side of the river they call home. I believe the Anacostia River—like the River Seine in Paris; the Thames in London; the Charles River in Boston and the San Antonio River Walk in San Antonio—can and should be a unifying force between the East and the West.
During my tenure as mayor, I will not forget the fact that some boats are still tethered to the harbor. I will not assume that progress in one part of the city means progress in all parts of the city. And, we will work hard to bring first class citizenship to all 8 wards. I will continue to bring attention and energy to the challenges of our most vulnerable. I will work to develop both sides of the Anacostia into prosperous centers of commercial and residential life. I will work to make ONE CITY out of the two very different realities that co-exist today.
How do we get there in the face of the serious challenges that confront us, you might ask? How do we meet the challenges of bridging the gap between the neighborhoods? How do we begin to address the educational, housing, income, employment, economic and racial divides? How can we make one area of the city as attractive as another? How do we stabilize our working and middle class populations so that they can remain in this city that was built largely by the hands of their forefathers?
We must first have a game plan, a blueprint, a road map or a compass to chart our course to achieve the goal of ONE CITY. Given all else, our approach must include securing the city’s long-term fiscal stability, ensuring a quality education for all children, keeping our citizens and communities safe, and creating jobs and real economic opportunity --- all the while remembering that our ultimate destination is acquiring full democracy for every resident of our city.
Our government model is built upon public participation and is based upon the theory that in a democracy, the more people that are involved the better the result. So, I’ve found that the best first step in tackling these issues is to listen. This is what I have been doing and will continue to do. As I have listened, I have heard one word come up, time and time again: jobs.
Unemployment has long been a concern in this city. The cycle of joblessness, as many of you know, can be a deep well of humiliation. It can sap able-bodied people of their strength, fracture families, and wreck communities. One of my administration’s top priorities is to find ways to put our people back to work.
In this, we face a somewhat unique challenge: even as our city has experienced rapid growth, still many remain unemployed, or underemployed. In many cases, this is because of what is known as a skills mismatch, where prospective employers cannot find qualified hires among our residents.
Census information confirms what many of us already know – that the District is home to the haves and the have-nots. That the city has become a tougher place to live for working families, who have to contend with rising rents and soaring housing prices. Many of the new jobs created over the past decade have required higher education.
This is why my administration has moved swiftly to step up our efforts at workforce development and job training. These kinds of programs are sorely underfunded, and are rarely treated with urgency. I’ve pushed my administration to work on programs that will deal with this crisis. We are working hard to improve the Department of Employment Services, now operating out of the new headquarters on Minnesota Avenue, Northeast in Ward 7. I want this Department to be a center of hope and progress so that residents who are out of work can learn what they need in order to make them more successful in their job search.
This is why, when I had lunch with President Obama, I asked him to work with me to ensure funding and completion of the United States Department of Homeland Security Headquarters on the grounds of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Ward 8. That project will generate 22,000 construction jobs and the location or relocation of 14,000 permanent jobs.
The Saint Elizabeths Initiative is not just a real estate project. It is an initiative for workforce development, small business development, and community development. However, the window of opportunity is short. Unless we act immediately, we may lose the chance to create a uniquely broad-based, community-anchored, local-federal partnership. My office is working closely with Secretary Janet Napolitano and her team to achieve these goals so that we do not wind up with a federal enclave, but have a federal catalyst for community development.
One week ago, I announced that we have negotiated with the federal government to give the District control of more land on the Walter Reed Campus. This will increase opportunities for jobs, affordable housing and retail that Ward 4 residents have been urgently requesting.
Recently, we have made great progress in pushing forward the Skyland Town Center project, in Southeast, which, after nearly two decades, finally will begin demolition in September. We’ve begun the Barry Farm redevelopment, part of the New Communities Initiative, a comprehensive public-private partnership designed to improve the quality of life of families living in Wards 1, 6, 7, and 8. Barry Farm will include a Recreation Center, a local public charter school, and over 200 units of affordable housing.
Next week, we will break ground on the new CityCenter project on the site of the old Convention Center – a project we’ve been anticipating for a long time. I congratulate our economic development team for breaking through the many obstacles that have impeded progress. This project will create a total of 1,700 construction jobs and 3,700 permanent jobs. Total estimated annual tax revenue will be $29.8 M. Projected retail annual sales will be $112M and the projected retail tax revenue will yield $9.4M. By far this is one of the most significant projects ever undertaken in the District of Columbia.
The progress made on this project signifies a major next step on the way to the recovery of our construction and real estate market here in the District. It is crucial that we be well prepared to take advantage of the upswing that is on its way. Now is the time to better educate and train our residents for the jobs that will be created in the next few years so that when projects like this conclude, our residents stand ready to be the most qualified candidates for these new positions.
One way to realize this potential is by creating green jobs and a green-job-friendly workforce. The creation of green jobs has the benefit of boosting the economy and protecting the environment.
Jobs in this sector contribute substantially to preserving or restoring environmental quality. Through legislation (such as the Green Building Act) and programs like the DC Green Collar Jobs Initiative, the District has defined strategies to prepare the resident workforce to participate in green employment opportunities.
The District is using our resources to help create opportunities for the workforce to participate in the green economy. For instance, by 2012, in accordance with the District’s green building legislation, all new buildings larger than 50,000 square feet (public and private) must conform to green standards. This requirement is driving demand for construction, building trades, and environmental remediation workers.
To ensure the highest level of coordination between policy, program and resulting jobs, I am directing the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, the Department of Employment Services, the Department of Small and Local Business Development, the Department of the Environment, and the Office of Planning to work together on this project.
In addition to encouraging green jobs and massive new construction projects, we also are embracing technological growth and advancement. My vision is that this city will be the technology capital of the world. The data show that technology, health care and hospitality are the industries of the future for the District. I have charged our office of the Chief Technology Officer to use the power of technology to lower the cost of government, create transparency, and to drive innovation.
Part of our One City vision is to ensure that D.C. remains the technology capital of the world in terms of municipal technology leadership. In the process, we can help level the playing field for underserved areas, enabling everyone in our city to have the same access to the technologies required for success in life. OCTO must be focused on adopting the best technologies for our city and maintaining our leadership status as one of the most technologically advanced cities in the nation.
Our commitment to innovation will be on display this week, when our DC-Net program breaks ground on the DC Community Access Network. This network project exists due to our nationally-recognized technology leadership. We won a $25 million dollar grant from the National Telecommunication and Information Association, which selected the DC Government as its grant awardee. This week, the DC Government will help to ignite economic development in Wards 5, 7 and 8 by bridging the digital divide with the DC Community Access Network. As this network is built, the underserved areas of our community will gain the same access to technology as other areas of our city. This is huge because it begins to level the technology playing field.
As the DC Government modernizes and consolidates our technology infrastructure this year, we will operate our own version of Cloud Computing using our own technology resources at lower cost than private industry. And, as we adopt open standards and open-source technologies, the DC Government will spur our city forward as a national example of I.T. excellence for states and municipalities.
Soon we will include in our technology repertoire smart parking, with multi-space meters. Furthermore, greater use of technology will facilitate the use of cell phones to check on meters and to pay digitally. DC is unique as a world class city and it needs world class technology to increase our reputation as a city of the world.
I will work closely with my Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, Victor Hoskins, to ensure that such projects, large and small, become a central plank of our economic development efforts. It’s not enough to break ground on a construction project. What really matters are the jobs, amenities and neighborhood benefits that result from these projects.
Job readiness begins with our youth. I recently visited Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School in Ward 5 where the US Environmental Protection Agency recognized the District of Columbia as the number one green-powered city in the nation. This fine school is an example of the vocational, career and technical education that I am working to bring back to our schools so that, upon graduation, students who may not be headed to college can walk into a job site ready to work.
This is why I worked so hard with UDC, D.C. Appleseed, Alice Rivlin, the DC Chamber of Commerce and others to help open the District’s first Community College in 2009, where, as of today more than 5,000 students are gaining workforce skills, associate degrees, continuing education and professional certification. It not only offers two years of college level academic preparation with an earned associate degree, but also, Certificate, Continuing Education and Workforce Development programs in technical and vocational instruction with a strong emphasis on career preparation. With healthcare as a major growth industry for jobs, along with the technology and hospitality industries, the Community College of the District of Columbia is meeting a need with its certificate programs in nursing assistant, practical nursing and office technology. Enrollment at CCDC has skyrocketed since opening, filling a glaring void in our educational continuum.
There is a natural nexus with education, economic development and jobs, and I’ve charged my Deputy Mayor of Education, De’Shawn Wright, State Superintendent Hosanna Mahaley, and Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, Victor Hoskins, as well as Chancellor Kaya Henderson, UDC and the community college to work collaboratively.
Moreover, our revamped Summer Youth Employment Program will give 12,000 youth the kind of skills and training that can open up meaningful employment opportunities beyond their summer job experience. I have also charged City Administrator, Allen Lew, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, and the Director of the Department of Employment Services (DOES) to work collaboratively to strengthen First Source laws, which are designed to ensure that D.C. residents are hired by firms which receive our taxpayer funds. Just this month, we announced a $55 million, six month pilot program called the Workforce Incentive Program, which encourages incentive payments to contractors who hire District residents on six of our school modernization projects. If successful, we will expand this positive approach.
We are stepping up enforcement of First Source law compliance. We’ve also moved to make it easier to track compliance, by establishing an electronic database, which will allow us to determine whether contractors are meeting their local employment targets.
And, we are making public the agreements that companies entered into in order to obtain contracts with DC tax dollars.
The facts are clear: every dollar we spend putting our citizens back to work comes back to us many times over in the form of tax revenue and local spending. In addition, as we increase the workforce, we decrease the need for public assistance. It’s important to earn a dollar; but it’s equally important to instill pride and dignity from making an honest living.
In some quarters, we have created a culture of dependency that does not encourage residents to take control of their lives. Public assistance should be a hand up, not a permanent hand out. Over time, the system we have in place has strayed from this belief—and it’s time we returned to it. I have directed my Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, BB Otero, to lead the effort to break down the silos in our current support system so that we can better serve our residents in need of assistance. That’s why we will implement substantial reforms to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Beginning April 1st, recipients who have received TANF for more than 60 months will graduate into a program that will provide the kinds of services that help break the cycle of dependency. We will help our residents overcome education and skills barriers; gain meaningful employment; retain their jobs; and eliminate their need for public assistance. We’re recognizing that there are ways to lessen people’s dependency on government, and this design is an important first step toward a life of self-sufficiency and independence.
Ms. Shamekia Murray, a resident from Ward 7 who was recently featured in an NBC4 story, has moved from benefit dependence to independence. She is a single mom who lost her home and was subsequently placed in our Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) program. Ms. Murray has now found an apartment. She is determined to break the cycle of poverty and is focused on a career, completing college and purchasing a home of her own. With the help of our programs, Ms. Murray will make it. Ms. Murray, could you please stand?
I’ve learned that when people are able to make their own way, when they become responsible for their own uplift, they become better providers, better parents, and better people. That is why we cannot tolerate double digit unemployment as high as 19 percent in Ward 7, where I live, and 30 percent in Ward 8. My administration will take the steps necessary to encourage job growth and employment across this city.
There is another challenge that lies at the root of our employment troubles: education. It’s no state secret that our schools are not yet where we’d like them to be. I promise you tonight that my administration will exert every effort to raise the bar for public education in the District of Columbia.
My commitment to education reform is unshakable and my goals are clear: a great teacher for every student and a great school for every community. There is no margin for error here. This is not just a policy issue for me: it’s a deeply personal one. I am a proud product of the public school system of this city.
Reforming our school system is a cooperative enterprise. I believe we can improve our existing traditional public schools and increase the role of our charters. I believe we can be innovative in our approach to education policy and invite parents and teachers to the table. I believe we can institute high teaching standards, invest in our teacher workforce and treat them with respect and dignity.
A few weeks ago, I named Kaya Henderson as my choice to lead the DC Public Schools. I have worked with Chancellor Henderson for several years, first in her capacity as Deputy Chancellor for the school system and, since last fall, as the Interim Chancellor. I have seen first-hand that she has the compassion, the drive, the wisdom and the focus on results that we need at this moment in our school’s history. And she understands the value and importance of working collaboratively with our communities.
Recently, when we learned of an impending increase in our revenues for the next fiscal year, I directed almost $77 million dollars of it to public education to avoid teacher layoffs and deep cuts in school budgets. I did this because we are at a critical point in the evolution of public education and I am insistent on forward movement.
My plan has been clear from the outset: a holistic educational continuum from birth-to-age 24; quality Pre-K through 12 Education; strong support for the Community College of the District of Columbia and the University of the District of Columbia; and a personnel system that rewards our best teachers. We owe ourselves, and more importantly our children, nothing less than our very best efforts.
We are instituting an “Early Success” initiative with Infants and Toddlers at the center of the next chapter in developing the most robust early childhood learning system in the nation. High quality early child development programs foster optimal development and experiences that have lasting impacts on future success. We must start at birth if we are to give our children the best chance at success and ensure that they enjoy strong emotional, intellectual, language and physical development.
I was very excited just a week ago to join the Buffett Foundation and many other community and educational partners in breaking ground on the Educare Learning Center in the Parkside community in Northeast that will provide early childhood education to 175 toddlers, three and four year olds, and their families from Wards 7 and 8. My education team is working with Educare to incorporate best-practices and wrap-around services, not just for the children, but for their families as well. And what we learn will inform other early childhood services across the city.
Special education has long been a concern, especially our lack of capacity to accommodate many children with disabilities in our own public education programs. That has to change! And, it will! Last year, the city spent more than $150 Million for children placed in private schools. And, we spent another $93 Million transporting children with disabilities to private schools, traditional public schools, and charters. Non-public tuition and transportation together are more than a quarter of a billion dollars!
Because some children have unique challenges or very severe disabilities, there will always be a need for some placement outside public education; but, not to the extent of current practice. We will address this concern with a three-pronged strategy: 1) A solid early childhood effort that will mitigate or even eliminate developmental delays 2) Transitioning older youth into job opportunities, such as supportive employment, or adult education as they reach age 22 or starting even younger, and 3) Building capacity within the public education system to serve more children with disabilities currently placed in private schools.
As a result of this approach, it is my goal over the next four years to cut in half the number of children with disabilities enrolled in private schools.
While we have made great strides at the elementary school level, we also need to strengthen our middle and high school performance in every segment of our city. Furthermore, we must integrate career and technology programs to prepare our students for the global economy, and improve our overall graduation rates.
I’m also looking forward to cutting the ribbon on the new H. D. Woodson High School in Ward 7, for which I have worked hard since I was the Councilmember representing Ward 7. It will be a “STEM” school that focuses on excellence in science, technology, engineering, and math. Last month, the Obama administration praised the Woodson project, and when the $100 million plus construction project is complete this summer, students will benefit from an innovative and progressive academic curriculum.
In the fall of this year, students at Anacostia High School will experience the completion of the first phase of their modernization. They will have a completely renovated and modernized gymnasium and brand new architectural and structural face lift to the historic main academic building. The entire modernization at Anacostia will be completed in August 2012.
In addition, Ballou High School will showcase its new school based health center. Dr. Mohammed Akhter, my director of health, who is a nationally renowned expert in community health programs, is spearheading my effort to bring a state of the art health center to Ballou that will provide medical screenings and health services to students and their children. Dental services will be offered as well. The goal is to allow students to have their health needs met during the school day, which will allow for more time in the classroom through preventative care.
I am committed to balancing school modernization efforts in all quarters of the city. This modernization effort across the city has transformed the schools that have received full renovations as well as those being remodeled in phases. We are just one-quarter of the way through the modernization effort and my goal is to ensure that we develop excellent facilities in every corner of the city as soon as possible so that all sectors will have the kind of school buildings they desire, thus reinforcing the worth of our children.
To meet the challenge of ONE CITY with equalized school modernization, I have pushed to re-prioritize the School Modernization Master Facilities Plan. In this regard, I have directed the Deputy Mayor for Education, De’Shawn Wright, to manage and rebalance the schedule in the master facilities plan to give more attention to schools that have been left behind. For example, in recent emergency legislation sent to and passed by the City Council, approximately $35.5 million was targeted towards East of the River for elementary and middle school modernizations. In that same legislation, we accelerated the design of Ballou HS by allocating $2.5M for planning in this fiscal year. Modernization work will begin once planning is completed.
Given all the educational building blocks we are establishing, there still remains the one cross cutting threat, truancy. If not addressed, truancy will erode the basic fiber of our educational progress. Truancy is one of the top concerns of my administration and is fast becoming a habitual problem for hundreds of students who feel that school is not the place for them and see no value in education. There are myriad social, psychological and economic factors that contribute to this problem.
Because truancy is a well-documented and an undisputed threat to the well-being of our children, I am calling upon the full resources of this government to tackle this problem. A few weeks ago, my entire executive team met with more than 75 local judicial officers, including Judges of the DC Court of Appeals, and Superior Court, Senior Judges, and Magistrate Judges who see the clear path that truancy carves directly to their courtrooms. Chief Judge Lee Satterfield has been in the forefront of addressing the issues of truancy and I committed to working in partnership with the courts and other concerned organizations to reduce truancy in the District of Columbia. Recently, I attended an analytical review at the MPD Command Center where numerous young people were discussed because of their repeated offenses and involvement in serious crimes. In virtually all of the cases reviewed, the first sign of trouble was their truancy from school.
If we want to build the first-rate educational system our children deserve, we also must recognize the obstacle that threatens even our most carefully laid plans – the challenge of balancing our budget.
Our fiscal house must be stabilized. This year’s budget cuts will be steep. Almost every state and city in the nation is learning how to live within their means. Fortunately, we are better off than most. The District’s rebounding commercial real estate market and higher projected tax revenues mean that our cuts will be less severe than we had initially anticipated. But almost $325 million of cuts and new revenue are still needed for this city to emerge with a balanced budget. Given the cuts of recent years, that is a daunting challenge.If I have been repetitive on this topic, it’s because it is vitally important for us to be honest about how things will change. Some of the agencies that we depend upon will be asked to make do with less. We cannot and will not use budget gimmicks to close the gap. From the start, my administration has been identifying areas for savings and at the same time trying to preserve important investments and essential services. We will emerge from this process like an athlete after a period of intense training: with a government that is leaner, but also one that is stronger.
Each year the city spends hundreds of millions constructing and renovating buildings but that effort often is uncoordinated, disjointed and inordinately time consuming. Moreover, agencies whose mission may be to provide recreation services or to perform a variety of basic public services also are asked to renovate or construct buildings. In the Fiscal Year 2012 budget, I will propose consolidating capital projects from a number of agencies into a new department that also will address the leasing of space. The new unit will manage capital projects by working with agencies to accurately budget for them, developing performance measures, establishing and adhering to timelines and achieving the most efficient use possible of public dollars. This will better ensure that projects run on time, stay on budget and are aligned with the city’s strategic objectives. And, with many capital projects under one umbrella, it will promote colocation and will push agencies to work in collaboration rather than silos.
As a part of the FY12 budget process, we have reached out to numerous community groups, stakeholders, and coalitions, and we’ve heard from many of you through our website. Over 2,000 people have responded to our survey. This information has been helpful and will be used both now and in future budget cycles.
I have made important pledges which I intend to keep: first, we have looked for cost savings before considering revenue enhancements. And I will not dip into our reserve or “rainy day” fund to fill the budget gap. When I traveled to Wall Street with our CFO and Council Chair, I assured them that we are working toward a budget that reflects structural balance and sound management. Simply put, we will not dip into our bank account to fund budgets because the spendable savings are gone and our budget must be based upon clarity, candor and a commitment to a stable financial future.
Finally, my administration is working to improve public safety in our city under the direction of the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice, Paul Quander. Public safety must be a coordinated and comprehensive effort to effect change in our neighborhoods and communities. Public safety encompasses police, corrections, fire, emergency medical services, unified communications, homeland security and other agencies working together to provide for our safety and wellbeing.
Every day the women and men of the public safety agencies put their lives on the line to protect us. Whether it’s on the streets, in the confines of the Jail, in a burning building or responding to a natural or person made disaster- these public safety members are there 24/7.
I’m committed to providing our public-safety officials with the means and the strategic vision to be successful. We will have meaningful community policing. Our officers will be accessible and available on foot, bike, Segway or by any other means that bind and make them a member our neighborhoods. Corrections will provide a safe, secure and structured environment in which to house men and women who are committed to their care and custody. Corrections will also lead the way on reentry and reintegration services for those who are returning to this community from periods of confinement. And we will work closely with CSOSA and the U.S. Parole Board. Fire and Emergency Medical Services will increase its efforts at fire prevention and safety while reducing overtime costs that have plagued the system for a number of years. They will develop a model pre-hospitalization ambulatory emergency response plan and will comply with all the recommendations accepted from the Rosenbaum Task Force. Homeland Security will assist us in being prepared for the very dangerous times in which we live. We no longer can take our collective safety for granted. We must and will be prepared.
Fiscal stability; quality education; safe communities; economic opportunity; self-determination—these are my goals .They are ambitious, and they cannot be reached or become a reality without the work and dedication of a strong workforce. Since taking office in January, I have made it a point to visit agencies to talk with our workforce. And I know quite well from first-hand knowledge that we have some of the finest employees of any in government service. I recognize the quality of their work and applaud them for what they do each day to make the wheels of government turn for those who live, work, visit and do business in our city.
What you will see in the months to come is the government you deserve—one that takes seriously the notion of public trust and accountability. If that trust is violated, you can expect swift action.
My entire life has been spent in one or another form of service to the public – in working to create a new way of life for people with cognitive disabilities, serving people across the spectrum of human services, getting homeless and at-risk youth off the streets to safety and – most recently – as an elected official. In every instance, I have discharged my responsibilities with honor and respect for the public trust. And I have always required those working with me to behave the same way.
As we move forward to address the challenges we face, neither I nor workers of this government can meet the challenges alone. I need -- we need -- your support and your active engagement. Citizenship doesn’t stop at the ballot box. It plays a role in everything we do.
Citizenship is also a two-way street; it requires both an active, knowledgeable and engaged public and a responsive and attentive government. During my campaign, I sought the regular input of citizens on a variety of subjects. I pledge to continue that kind of engagement through means such as the town hall meetings I will be holding in each ward starting next week to discuss my Fiscal Year 2012 budget. I was encouraged by the more than 2,700 responses we got in less than a week to the online budget survey we recently posted. I am regularly getting valuable feedback and information from citizens on my Twitter and Facebook accounts. My Community Relations team will continue to seek your input and recommendations through their outreach in wards, neighborhoods and community, social, civic and special-interest groups. I pledge my administration’s best efforts to reach out to you.
But citizens should reach out to their government as well. I need you to pay attention to what your government does: attend community meetings, visit our websites, call us with your suggestions, tune in to our city government channels, cable 16 and 13, and reach out to city agencies.
I need you to be of service to your community. One of the inescapable realities of a leaner budget is that many of us will be forced to do more. For example, the government has fewer funds to grant to organizations that provide social services to our neediest. Into this void, I ask the citizens of this city—young and old—to step up and offer whatever you can of your time, talent, and resources.
We can follow in the footsteps of young Wendall Kyler, a 15 year old student from southeast DC who has volunteered in the community for several years. He has been an incredible role model and tutor for younger students in his neighborhood. He’s worked with the homeless and he’s even done some fundraising: in fact, he has helped raise over $5,000 dollars for charities throughout the city. Wendall has displayed a commitment to help solve problems in his community. He is an inspiration and a role model. Wendell, where are you? Please stand up. I, personally, thank you for your service.
I have outlined some daunting challenges and initiatives to address each of them. And as difficult as they maybe, our city is up to the task.
In fact, when I travel across the District, what I see is a proud and resilient spirit. It’s a spirit embodied by young people, who volunteer without ever being asked. It’s a spirit captured by Shamekia Murray, who improved the lot of her family through her own effort. It’s a spirit I find in the families who do those simple, meaningful tasks: making sure their children get to school on time, do their homework, and prepare for bright futures. It’s the spirit of business and union leaders, who push to narrow the employment gap and create new opportunity. It’s a spirit that’s lived out by our faith leaders, who teach us enduring moral lessons that bind together our communities and our families. It’s a spirit I find in our senior citizens, who show us by example how to persevere through hard times and how to do so with dignity. It’s a spirit that emerges from every corner of this city, independent of class, race, gender, or creed. It’s what gives me hope and optimism. It’s what gives me energy. When I see people around this city working on its behalf, I know then that what is in store for us is something great. I know those actions—those thousand moments of service and sweat—contain all the energy we need to meet the challenges we face as ONE CITY.
And that’s my request of you tonight: rise to the challenge with me, and with Wendell, and with Shamekia, and with anyone else in this room who sacrifices on behalf of Washington DC. When a century from now a future mayor gives a State of the District Address at a school, let him or her take pride in something we built today, with our hands and with our spirit. When the story of this moment is written, let it be said of us that we met these challenges as ONE CITY.
May God continue to bless the people of our great city. Thank you very much.
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