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The DC Voter
League of Women Voters of the District of Columbia
Vol. 79, No. 11, December 2003

Making Our Voices Heard — Making Our Votes Count

733 15th Street, N.W., Suite 432, Washington, DC 20005
202/347-3020,  fax: 202/347-2522
Website:, E-mail:

President's Message
Education Committee: DC School Vouchers Forum Report
Children at Risk Committee
Nominations Welcome
Voter Services: Presidential Primary Registration Deadline
Welcome New Members
League Archives May Need Your Files
Congressional Representation: DC Voting Rights Committee
National Program
December Meeting Schedule
Boathouse Proposal Revisited
Calendar: December 2003
Brown Bag Dialogue Meeting with DCPS District 3 School Board Member Tommy Wells, October 27, 2003, LWVUS Board Room


November has seen several important events on the D.C. League calendar, and the month is only half over! On November 10, a noontime dialogue organized by our Housing Committee with the assistance of Anna Marsh took place in the Boardroom of LWVUS at 1730 M St. Some 25 people heard Cheryl Cort of WRN, Nina Dastur, a housing attorney, and Robert Pohlman, Executive Director of the Coalition for Nonprofit housing and Economic Development explained the latest developments in the legislative and zoning initiatives, as well as new initiatives that are in the works. On November 12 the League forum on Vouchers took place at The Sumner School. (See report from the Forum.) Next week, by the time this VOTER is mailed (Nov. 21). Our Units will have met and discussed all the many issues relating to school vouchers.

Also on November 12, our Voter Service Committee got a head start on the coming election year, by cooperating with the D.C. Public Schools and staff members of the Board of Elections to give an afterschool workshop on voter education and registration to high school students and their teachers. Each of the participating schools received a supply of voter registration forms, information as to location of polling places, and more materials to begin spreading the word about elections.

On November 13, the Congressional Representation Committee heard from representatives of three D.C. groups working toward congressional representation for D.C. as well as local autonomy: Get the Vote, the Statehood/Green Party, and the Committee for a Capital City.

Before December and the year 2003 have ended and the year 2004 begins, I want to thank all of our wonderful members for their continued support for the League -- moral, and financial. Soon you will receive the annual letter from your President, once more asking you to "send money."

Let's all thank Elaine Melmed, for the $598 her imaginative table game produced for our budget on the occasion of our annual fall luncheon - it is possible to have fun while giving money. Your contributions are appreciated. Speaking of fun, we should also thank Linda Softli, Naomi Glass, and the 38 people who attended the Hillwood tour on October 5 for helping keep our balance sheet in the black.

Happy Holidays, Frances Gemmill, President

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If you have moved since the last election or are a new resident in the District, please note that the Last Day To Register To Vote in the January 13th Presidential Primary is MONDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2003. (See below.)

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Four panelists with different perspectives on school vouchers presented their views November 12 to an appreciative audience of about 50 League members and guests in The Sumner School. Arnold Fege, President of Public Advocacy for Kids, pointed out that over 60 national organizations officially oppose vouchers, that only Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Florida use public funds to support voucher plans, and that polls show that 80% of the American public value our public schools. Cornelia Spinner, DC State Education Officer, acknowledged that the Mayor and some DC Council members favor school vouchers. There no definitive studies on the impact of vouchers on a school system or the students; and that imposition of the plan will "add to the chaos in our city. Warlene Gary, Director of Human and Civil Rights Division of the National Education Association, pointed out that race and poor performance are the basis of the movement -that it contributes to the privatization of our schools- and that what they actually need for reform is full financial support. Marnie Shaul, Director of Education Issues for the General Accounting Office (GAO) said that because of the difficulty in designing valid studies, there is no definitive research, that the three Milwaukee studies have produced widely different outcomes. During the question and answer period, Cornelia Spinner agreed that studies of those DC students who have used privately funded vouchers show that there is a high attrition rate. Fege noted that the same accountability is not required for private schools as that for public schools. Courtney Snowden of the National Coalition for Public Education clarified the pending legislation -$7500 each for 1000 to 1300 DC children each year, much less than Mayor Williams had initially expected. The legal counsel to Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton urged us to call senators and congressmen to let them know that majorities of the DC Council, the School Board, and other organizations in the District oppose vouchers, despite the support of Mayor Williams, Councilman Chavous, and School Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz. — Kathy Schmidt

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The Children at Risk Committee is concerned that proposed legislation --which will soon come before the City Council-- is not in the best interests of children. Proposed measures aim to punish parents of juvenile offenders with fines and notification of their arrest to public housing authorities.

These measures also would lower the age at which juveniles can be tried in adult courts and confined in adult facilities. Experts in juvenile justice matters are attacking these proposals. In their place they urge integration of substance abuse, mental health and educational services for juvenile offenders. They argue that the number of juvenile offenders could be lowered if city youth had access to after school programs, vocational training, mentoring, decent housing, parent involvement in schools. They stress the impact of poverty on crime and present most delinquents as victims rather than dangerous and violent criminals.

In March the Children at Risk Committee will prepare for the units a review of the sorry state of juvenile justice in D.C. and many other cities across the country. — Joan Wilson (237-6264), Chairs

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The Nominating Committee is getting in gear for the 2004-2005 season. Your talents are needed! Please feel free to nominate yourself or others to a board position, or just make an informal suggestion.

Contact the committee: Chris Matthews ( 269-3890), Mary Rodgers (2441933), Joan Domike (966-3865), Sheila Willet (5881734) or Grace Malakoff (387-7540). — Chris Matthews, Chair

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Presidential Primary Registration Deadline

Monday, December 15th is the last day DC residents can register to vote in the January 13"' Presidential Preference Primary for the Democratic and DC Statehood-Green Parties. The Republican Party will hold a caucus in February 2004. Visit for a list of candidates.

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Welcome New Members

Jacqueline W. Cole
Lady Sara Lou Carter
Edith C. Poor
Margaret (Peg) Warren
Sophia G. Young

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We are grateful to the Washingtoniana Division of the Martin Luther King Memorial Library for keeping LWVDC archives. We are in the process of making sure these are in a usable form. Although they have many boxes of material that various Leaguers have submitted, there is not a concise way to access key documents without going through several boxes. Therefore, we are compiling a box of a complete run of the Voters as well as other key documents so that they are all together.

Don't clean out your basement for us, but if you happen to have original copies of the following, it would be appreciated. We need Voters from 1989 (vol. 62, nos.6-16) and anything prior to Jan. 1983 (vol. 57, no. 6). Some are simply missing, and for some, we have one copy, but would like not to have to do a lot of photocopying. Also needed are Voters' Guides prior to September 1978 and Where We Stand prior to 1977.

As the office is small, please do not bring in files. If you have these particular issues, please contact Chris Matthews at 269-3890 ( to arrange pickup. If you have an interest or time to devote to this project, let me know! — Chris Matthews (269-3890), Chair

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LWVUS, in conjunction with LWVNCA and LWVDC is planning to launch a new listserv on DC Voting Rights. LWVUS Board member Olivia Thorne will assist with the initial moderation of the listserv.

Save the Dates: June 11-14, 2004 for the 2004 LWVUS CONVENTION to be held at the Hilton Washington Hotel, Washington, DC. Volunteers will be needed for these positions during the convention: Registration, Credentials, Dine-around, Doorkeepers, Elections, Hospitality, Information, Monitors, Timekeepers, and Ushers. Mark your calendar now and watch for signup sheets in the DC Voter in early 2004. — Andrea Morris Gruhl & Barbara Sherrill, NCA News & Notes

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Report of the November 13th Presentations

Matt Marcou of Get the Vote made a case for a constitutional amendment to correct this clear civil rights violation, which would provide for full voting rights as well as local autonomy. Reviewing the process of developing the constitution, he reminded us that the amendment process was devised to change the constitution as needed. In succeeding years, amendments have repeatedly expanded the rights of citizens to vote. The process of achieving support needed for a constitutional amendment is not quick or easy. To persuade Congress and the 50 states to support it, we must first build agreement and consensus among ourselves. 

The Statehood/Green Party, represented by Scott McLarty, wants full statehood like that of the current 50 states. Remembering some of our distinguished citizens who have supported Statehood (Josephine Butler, Julius Hobson, and Hilda Mason), he said Home Rule has changed our circumstances, but not enough. Statehood would be permanent, and allow us to develop a democratic state. Representation alone is not democracy, and it should come from democracy, not precede it. There was a question from a member of the Committee about our fiscal ability to maintain a viable state under statehood, which still needs to be answered. 

The Committee for a Capital City, represented by Rick Dykema, advocates reunion with Maryland. Washington, D.C. would become a Congressional district and vote with other Maryland citizens. One problem, though, is that the consent of Maryland is required for such a solution, and Maryland opposes retrocession. Dykema also acknowledged that we would lose at least two of our electoral votes, and might after the 2010 census be redistricted with parts of Maryland.

You are invited to attend the next meeting of the Congressional Representation Committee on December 11, at 2:30 p.m., in the Cleveland Park Library, Connecticut Avenue and Newark St. NW. Speakers from other D.C. groups with different perspectives will be announced in our weekly electronic news "This Week in the League." For more information, call Kathy Schmidt. — Kathy Schmidt (237-5550) Chair

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Election of the President/Presidential Selection: The League has had a position in favor of direct election of the President and abolition of the Electoral College since 1970. The position is being updated this year by a LWVUS Task Force, which recommends adding two sentences to the existing position. The new position will be the subject of our concurrence Unit Meetings in February, when we will discuss what the position means and whether we support it. The text of the proposed new position follows, with added sentences in italics: 

"The League of Women Voters believes that the direct-popular-vote method for electing the President and Vice President is essential to representative government. The League of Women Voters believes, therefore, that the Electoral College should be abolished. The League also supports uniform voting qualifications and procedures for presidential elections. The League supports changes in the presidential election system - from the candidate selection process to the general election - to provide voters with sufficient information about candidates and their positions, public policy issues and the selection process itself. The League supports action to ensure that the media, political parties, candidates, and all levels of government achieve these goals and provide that information."

Looking ahead to January, save the 15th from noon to 2:00 pm for a General Meeting on The Electoral College and its Alternatives, when we
will discuss some of the problems associated with this poorly understood structure of our constitution. Benjamin Wilson, Chair of the DC Board of Elections and Ethics, has agreed to moderate our panel.

Human Rights Day December 10: The LWVDC will have a table at the luncheon sponsored by the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area to celebrate the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Again this year, our Board has voted to recognize someone who has worked to achieve the right to representation in one's own government, one of the rights enumerated by the Declaration. Our honoree this year, Ilir Zherka, is executive director of DCVote. The luncheon ($30/person) will be held from noon to 2 pm in the Caucus Room of the Russell Senate building. If you are interested in joining the League table, call Kathy Schmidt at 237-5550.

National Program Planning: One of the challenging tasks that lead up to the League's National Convention, to be held in DC, June (dates needed) is reviewing LWVUS positions with a view to recommending that they be retained, dropped or updated. As a grassroots organization, the League does this in consultation with its members; Unit Meetings on the subject are planned for January. Members attending Units meeting in December are encouraged to identify the "burning issues" that they want the LWVUS to address. — Sheila Keeny (966-1692), 3rd Vice President, National Program

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December Units are traditionally Unit Choice meetings with some units partaking of a holiday brunch and/or inviting a local elected representative (DC Council, School Board, or other community leader) to be a guest speaker. The Next Unit Council Meeting will be held on Monday, December 8 at 12 Noon at the DC League office. Joan Domike (966-3865), Unit Director•

Tuesday, December 16

9:45 am, Southwest Unit at the home of Leona Rumsey (863-7484), 550 N St., SW, #S202
12:45 pm, Northwest Day Unit at IONA Senior Services, 4125 Albemarle St., NW. For info call Frances Gemmill at 362-6784.
6:30 pm, In-Town Evening Unit at the Irish Channel Inn (Restaurant/Pub) 500 H St., NW, in Chinatown (Gallery PI/Chinatown Metro stop). We will reserve tables for the meeting. Members can choose to eat or not. Call Sheila Willet by 3 pm on the 16th at 347-3020 if you plan to attend.

Wednesday, December 17

9:45 am, Upper 16th Street Unit at the home of Constance Tate (882-0387) 609 Delafield Place, NW

Thursday, December 18

9:45 am, Chevy Chase/Ingleside Unit in the Lounge at 3050 Military Rd., NW Co-chairs: Ruth Allen 362-8953 and Joan Wilson 237-6264
7:30 pm, The Evening Unit. Call Joan Domike 966-3865 for meeting location.

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On November 6 the National Capital Planning Commission held a public hearing relating to the proposal by Georgetown University to build a boathouse just west of Key Bridge on a plot of former parkland. Geri Albers and I joined several members of the coalition "Defenders of the Potomac River Parkland" at the hearing, and I presented a statement similar to the League statement at the hearings of the D.C. Zoning Commission on May 19.

Our statement read, in part:

Without a doubt, the undeveloped area along the Potomac River, west of Key Bridge., provides a valuable resource to our city as open space in an urban setting. As the Georgetown Waterfront Park & C&O Canal National Historic Park Plan states., "Above Key Bridge is one of the main scenic treasures of the Nation's Capital."

Because the League believes in full public review of the environmental, social, and economic impacts of major developments such as the proposed boathouse, we ask that an Environmental Impact Statement be developed before plans for the boathouse proceed. The 1995 Environmental Assessment is outdated, and it was not an assessment of the specific proposal before you. A new environmental review is an appropriate means of addressing issues with full opportunity for citizen participation.'...

After discussion, the NCPC Commissioners voted only to approve the zoning approved by the DC Zoning Commission, referring approval of the boathouse proposal back to the DC Zoning Commission -- Recognizing that the proposed boathouse would be 60% larger and 35% taller than that allowed by the 1995 agreement between the National Park Service and the DC State Historic Preservation Office.

Opponents urged consideration of alternative locations for a Georgetown "Universal" Boathouse - open to all university, high school, and boating programs. In that way, the first new boathouse on the Georgetown waterfront would accommodate everyone and be truly "Open Space", with open doors. — Frances Gemmill

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Questions concerning League membership can be directed to Linda Softli (667-8210) or Suzanne Campagna (338-1055).

Has your League Membership expired?

Please check the address label on the back page of the printed and mailed version of this issue. If the membership date above your name has passed, print out the renewal form and mail with your check (made payable to LWVDC).

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We wish you Season's Greetings and Good Wishes for the Holidays! DC League Board

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  1 3 10:00 am LWVDC Board Meeting, LWVUS ofice 5 10 am, LWV NCA Board Mtg., LWVUS office 6
7 8 12 noon, Unit Council Mtg., 733 15th St., NW, #432 9 9:45 am, Voter Registration of new US citizens
Deadline for articles for January DC Voter
10 11 2:30 pm DC Voting Rights Cmte. 12 13
14 15 16 Unit Meetings
9:45 am Southwest Day
12:45 pm, NW Day
6:30 pm, In Town Evening
17 Unit Meetings
9:45 am Upper 16th St.
18 Unit Meetings
9:45 am, Chevy Chase/Ingleside
7:30 pm Evening Unit
19 January DC Voter mailed 20
21 22 23 24 25 Christmas Day 26 27
28 29 30 31 New Year's Eve      

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Mr. Wells is meeting with various groups throughout the city to provide information for citizens about the state of schools and issues of concern. In our discussions, Mr. Wells used his time to focus on the state of the schools and governance.

With D.C. having roughly 67,000 public school students, Mr. Wells believes it is necessary for someone to speak up for the parents all over the city as well as the approximate 5,000 teachers and staff. He and others on the Board are concerned about the lack of informed public discourse about D.C. Public Schools (DCPS). So often what one hears is bad news. Mr. Wells is concerned that the case for public charter schools and vouchers seems to be predicated on the failure of public schools. Leaguers appreciate only too well that much of the major print media too often focuses on the old saws of "waste, fraud, and abuse" but with too little in terms of more basic, edifying coverage. Mr. Wells pointed in contrast to the civic partnership established by the Chicago Tribune in terms of reporting to that community.

Too few know that D.C. has some of the highest performing elementary and high schools in the U.S., per Newsweek. Recognizably, we also have some of the lowest performing schools, thus with low aggregate literacy and math scores. To consider improvements, Mr. Wells believes we have to examine whether we have a system of schools or a school system. He believes we have arrived at the former, given variety embraced by charter and traditional schools, open boundaries, private schools and entrepreneurial principals. It used to be that the "customer" for one teacher would be the next teacher ... can this child advance to the next grade. Now the customer seems to be parents.

Throughout the U.S., including D.C., almost all the new dollars are being devoted to special education and lowperforming schools. Almost no urban school systems have gifted-and talented programs. For his part, Mr. Wells has gone to bat for high performing programs at Langdon elementary (Ward 5), which also has a Montessori program within the school, resulting in a synergy that helps engage parents. Further, the School Board has supported a multi-year schooltransformation program. Now in the third year, special attention has been paid to the 14 lowest performing schools. A fresh start was made with all staff removed so that former as well as new teachers had to apply. A city social worker has been provided for all those schools, which takes the load from teachers. The tough measures taken in cooperation with the union and key staff (principals, vice-principals, and top management) are showing results. Mr. Wells believes this effort is producing better results than an earlier, alternative proposal (by the Mayor) to privatize twenty low-performing schools with attendant restrictions on the DCPS budget.

The School Board, however, does have challenges, such as how to translate the experience with Langdon as well as others, such as the bilingual program at Oyster and the creative design for new school buildings at Miner Elementary. Miner now has a waiting list; the School Board had visited a variety of schools outside D.C. before settling on the design, which has proved successful. When looking at numerical comparisons with other jurisdictions, Mr. Wells offered caution. For example, D.C. students average low SAT scores. We should note that 77% of graduating seniors took the test. This high participation rate appears to affect unfavorably the average D.C. test scores. Only 4 states (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts) have higher participation rates.

Turning to internal management, Mr. Wells recognized that DCPS has mismanaged funds and that citizens should question what is going on. The budget for the 2003-2004 fiscal year (FY) is the first budget not inherited from the Control Board but drawn up by the School Board. It is without a deficit but, obviously, if funds are mismanaged later in the year, then the budget levels must be cut - the later this occurs the harder it is to solve the problem. The Board's goal is to keep teachers in the classroom, so candidates for any cutting or freezing would be elsewhere.

The Board is now enforcing certain standing policies, such as requiring teachers to be certified within three years of employment. Last year 600 teachers did not achieve this and were let go. Additionally, after eight years of neglect, requirements for immunizations are being enforced, which also has benefit for the health of community at large. Basics are being attended to, such as knowing the number of people working for public schools.

Mr. Wells noted that special education has been a terrible failure and eats up new monies. In terms of the percentage of children with special needs, the District is not out of the ballpark with 17% (Boston at 20%, Baltimore at 16 % and New Orleans at 17%). However, D.C. has a high number of court cases involving special needs, resulting in a high number of private placements. Annual funding level is about $170 million. Of this around $60 million is for busing special-needs kids and about $15 million for attorney fees. Two hundred children are in private placement and none of these were placed under negotiated contracts. Fees for evaluations have been exorbitant; however now they are subject to market rates. Last year $13 million for special education came from the tobacco settlement for DCPS. This was used for increasing capacity in D.C., adding 500 desks to the existing 200. The Board has brought in consultants DC Appleseed Center to evaluate the special-education hearing process. D.C. has more parents' requests for hearings than any other city in the country. The Board supports giving higher priority to special education in DCPS, e.g., someone reporting directly to the Superintendent. There will be a new approach to evaluating principals and not by test scores alone. Ten to twenty percent of a rating will be determined by the number of hearing requests by parents in that school. This will reveal cases to the Board, which previously never heard of problems.

The Q&A session explored various issues. With respect to having a "vanguard system" (relating to early childhood reading), Mr. Wells thinks D.C. seems to have too many systems already. The costs for implementing the federally, required No Child Left Behind act is on the order of $15-20 million, but we will be getting less than half from the federal government (about $9 million). Congress has mandated a new school for severely limited children, to be built on D.C. General Hospital land and has provided $3 million. The students will be from D.C. but the school will be private. The opportunity to consider applying $3 million to the two D.C. schools relevant to the needs was not an option for the District.

Mr. Wells found it daunting to run in two wards, especially since he drew the short term when the hybrid elected/appointed School Board was established. He had to become known to and know about 25 percent of the city. Substantive press coverage of candidate views could have been a lot better. The position of School Board Member is now part-time and pays $15,000 per year (down from $30,000). Yet Mr. Wells has to be concerned with 40 schools, 40 PTA's, and school buildings with an average age of 65 years. The Board is supposed to stick to policy, but operational problems seem to necessitate Board involvement.

With regard to the hybrid Board (combining five elected members, an elected President, and four members appointed by the Mayor), it has been difficult for this Board to develop a sense of common purpose. Although some extremely talented people have been appointed to the Board, appointed members do not appear to feel the same relationship to the community they serve, as do the elected members. This has been reflected in their lower attendance at the four Board meetings required to be held each year in the community. On the other hand, appointed Board members have been willing to "call a spade a spade" when deliberating on the Mayor's budget this year for teachers' raises, and being willing to invoke a provision subjecting raises to the availability of funds. (That area of funding had seen a $31 million one-year jump and was set to receive over $40 million this year. But this contrasts with the $5 million increase in the Mayor's budget for DCPS.)

As to continuing the present hybrid arrangement or changing it, Mr. Wells believes this must be pursued through full community dialogue. He does believe that it is better when a Board elects its own president because then they are accountable for working with that person. He urged that the debate not turn on short-term issues like personalities.

Other concerns expressed in the Q&A session included:

  • Availability of space for charter schools - - There are schools half filled, which suggests that DCPS could be more flexible. Mr. Wells thinks there should be a more neutral body to make decisions on allocating space. One possibility would be a commission, with representation from the School Board, the Chartering Authority, Mayor, Superintendent, and a DC resident appointed by the Mayor and approved by the Council.
  • Fighting for academic excellence apart from the dollars - -- Former Board Member Erika Landsberg's group, DC Voice, is working on academic improvement but Mr. Wells would like to see more parent groups so concerned. The plans for technical programs at a renovated McKinley High School will help expand educational opportunities relevant for jobs, but the project will tie up $7 million in a tight budget climate.
  • The desirability and practicability of changing the DCPS fiscal year (FY) - - Mr. Wells noted also the need to take account of when funds are actually appropriated and made available to DCPS. Actually, DCPS received authority to spend FY2004 dollars this past year, but Mr. Gandhi determines how much and when. DCPS cannot carry over prior FY dollars, so there is a balancing act to use all of FY 2003 monies before the new FY. (Any carry over reverts to the District, not DCPS.)

Barbara Yeomans

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