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Government and People
|The DC Statehood Green Party has unanimously and
emphatically rejected the proposals now before the Council of the District of Columbia to
abolish the elected Board of Education or to curtail the voting rights of District
parents, taxpayers, and citizens. Proposals by Mayor Anthony Williams and Councilmember
Kathy Patterson would replace the popularly elected board with an appointed Board named by
the Mayor. The Mayor, not the elected Board of Education, would appoint the Superintendent
of the public schools.
Members of the Statehood Green Party (the recently merged DC Statehood Party and the DC Green Party) see the move as an effort to subvert our right to elect our local representatives, and as a blow to democracy as dangerous as any we've suffered at the hands of Congress. They are already among the leaders of the movement to defend democratic governance of our public schools. Gail Dixon, at-large member of the elected Board of Education and a leader of the Party, has called for the people of the District to defend our children by defending the ability of each and every voting citizen to hold elected and appointed public officials accountable.
Ms. Dixon noted that "These changes cannot be made without revising the Home Rule Charter and without the approval of the voters of this city in a referendum. I am convinced that the Mayor's proposal will be rejected by the voters of every ward of this city. [Council member Kevin] Chavous' proposal will be rejected almost as forcefully."
Terry Greene, parent and PTA activist added, "Enough is enough. Everything is everything. Parents will not tolerate this. Parents have the power, and we will educate parents to take a stand. We will not sit down and tolerate this strangulation of democracy."
Williams calls it "elitist" to talk about "broad principles of democracy" while "the children aren't being educated," adding that "Every child deserves an equal education. That's democracy." The Mayor did not explain how his intended bureaucracy guarantees either quality education or democracy -- especially in light of the failure of another bureaucracy, the Emergency Board of Trustees imposed by the Control Board in 1996, to solve DC's educational crisis.
Bungled contracting resulted in a three-week delay in the opening of schools in the fall of 1997, as roofs were repaired at excessive cost. $60-million budget over-expenditures were discovered in May of 1998. CEO General Julius Becton resigned, as did Bruce McLaurie, chair of the Emergency Trustees. Good schools were closed and threatened with closing for bad reasons.
The Mayor's Power Grab
The Mayor has two goals: (1) eliminate accountability to the District's parents; and (2) get his hands on the DC Public Schools budget. With Council's support, Mayor Williams already tried to shortchange our schools by tampering with the Uniform Formula for funding determined by a committee of public officials and community representatives. By law, Fiscal Year 2000 funding for schools should be $615 million, with an additional $66 million for school building repairs. But the Mayor attempted to lower the funding by $40 million, erroneously predicting that 5,000 students would leave the DC Public School system and by eliminating the inflation increase. When pro bono lawyers acting on behalf of Parents United for the DC Public Schools objected, the Mayor restored the money, mainly by siphoning funds away from special education tuition and transportation (payments required per court order).
Council also subtracted $30 million from public school funds in erroneous anticipation of increasing enrollment at charter schools. The Mayor and Council thus do not want to provide the full funding per pupil according to their own formula for our public school students or for court-mandated special education costs.
The education power grab proves what Statehood Green Party activists have long contended, that DC residents suffer two continuing assaults on our democracy: (1) our lack of legislative autonomy, right to self-determination, and representation in Congress; and (2) the willingness of our own elected officials to transfer control of the District to a powerful financial elite represented by the Board of Trade and the Federal City Council, resulting in the displacement and disenfranchisement of residents, especially DC's African American working class population.
As Chief Financial Officer in 1998, the Mayor pushed for construction of the MCI Arena (corporate welfare for Abe Pollin) when the city could not put roofs on our schools. His attempts to sell off and to relocate the University of the District of Columbia have demonstrated similar disdain for our children's right to a quality education.
Mayor William's ability to deliver is clear. When he oversaw the city's finances in 1998, the CFO of DC Public Schools reported to him the discovery of the $60-million shortfall, which has never been properly explained to DC parents and taxpayers. The Mayor, not the Superintendent, is responsible for the payroll of DCPS teachers, and they (like firemen and other public servants) are not getting paid the right amount at the right time, even as the Mayor's bureaucrats collect their bonuses. This Mayor's accountability and acceptance of responsibility is clear: all problems are someone else's fault.
Save DC Democracy!
While the governance of the school system is a major concern, Philip Blair, Jr., a DCPS parent, points out that "at the end of the day, we still have to elect good members to the Board of Education. And we have to get started now. We will be calling on members of the party and other friends of democracy to start working today to scrutinize the records of Board members who want to run for re-election and to identify and support good candidates for the Ward seats in Wards 1, 3, 5, and 6, and for the two at-large seats to be filled in November of 2000."
The DC Statehood Green Party stands in solidarity with Parents United, with the DC Congress of PTAs, with the DC Federation of Civic Organizations, and with other political party organizations, including members of the Mayor's own Democratic Party, in opposition to the plans by the Mayor and by Council to take power over the Board of Education.
We urge all DC residents to call the Mayor, Council, and the Control Board and demand that the Board remain a popularly elected body accountable to the public, that all funding for our public schools be restored, and that the Control Board keep its promise to retain full power to the elected Board of Education in 2000.
* Mayor Anthony Williams: 727-2980; fax 727-0505; firstname.lastname@example.org
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