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March 14, 1996

Don’t Know Much ’Bout Education

Dear Neighbors:

I have three issues to discuss before we begin.

Subscribers. We're close to breaking the 600 barrier but I really need to do much better to make this enterprise a commercial success. The best marketing is email to email. Please copy this message to friends and urge them to subscribe. All they have to do is send me a note. Also, the newsletter has not managed to break into the universities and colleges where the potential audience is huge. If some of you can forward this issue to Georgetown, Howard, Catholic, G.W., American, UDC, and some of our other fine schools which I can't recall, we'll have a larger list, most voices, and a less impoverished moderator.

Reporters. A number of reporters lurk in the background. I understand why many of you may be reluctant to post messages under your name. But I can also see this "whatever-you-call-it" being useful for you. So (for reporters only), I'm happy to post your queries and comments under a pseudonym. But please let me know who you are so I can verify comments.

Petitions. dc.story is a neat way to get likeminded people behind your cause, whether it's cable television, the school system, or, as Bob Dole would say, whatever (Dole's equivalent of Bush's "Vision Thing"). I welcome using this vehicle for democratic action. If you want to organize a campaign, please send detailed information about what you are requesting of readers: prefab letters, full addresses, email addresses, whatever. And, of course, be concise.

This week's Digital Ink (soon to be known as the Washington Post on-line, I think) column discusses the demise of the Free Ward 3 movement and the continuing life of the ideas that spawned it.

Also, I believe this week's City Paper includes a satirical piece I worked on regarding the Washington Times coverage of Hillary Clinton and Whitewater. I haven't had so much fun with a story since elementary school.


Jeffrey Itell



It certainly would be a public service if you or someone can write a story clearly explaining the finances of the D.C. schools. I listed some horror stories in a previous post and won't repeat them here (about lack of capital improvements, etc.] I wanted to make sure you had seen a letter published in the Washington Times today--Monday, March 11--by Board of Education President Karen Shook, who speaks of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of staff members removed from the rolls in the past few years. She declares that "there is no basis for the 500 positions the Mayor and the D.C. financial control board are looking to cut." I would like to think she is right and that the spending per pupil figures cited by one of your other correspondents are out of date. And things certainly are not all bad in the D.C. schools. The class sizes I have seen seem reasonable and comparable to suburban public schools, for example, although the student-teacher ratios are being threatened by the current budget cutting. As you probably know, Parents United for the D.C. Schools has done some independent analysis of the school budget and would be a good source.

[I'm writing my Digital Ink column this week on this subject. I think (humbly?) that I have figured out the problem. I can even offer a political solution, but I don't expect to see it in my lifetime. jeff]

Ted Gest 73652,


If the schools are given so much money, then why are they in such terrible shape? Can anyone tell us where the money allocated to the schools is going? It certainly is not spent on teacher salaries, building maintenance, equipment, supplies or special programs. Is there some enormous bureaucracy being funded by education money?

Closing schools, eliminating substitute teachers and otherwise taking actions which hurt DC's children is a despicable way to balance the budget. If there are abuses, we should call on our elected representatives, who presumably have access to the information, to show us what they are and demand that they take some action to curb them.



Before we can have an intelligent debate about slicing $100 million out of the D.C. budget, we need to know where the money is being spent. D.C. officials routinely acknowledge they have no idea how many employees are on the payroll. D.C. operates with a crazy quilt of accounting systems, and its myriad departments have no reliable, standardized system for producing "roll-up" financial reports of the type that businesses use to monitor and control spending. In fact, if D.C. were a publicly held corporation, they would have been shut down by the SEC years ago.

Congress needs to commission an audit of D.C. financial "management" to establish a baseline of where money is being spent, and how spending is "controlled." Perhaps one of the Big Six accounting firms could give D.C. a break on the cost of such an undertaking. Then we could begin the process of identifying and eliminating "waste, fraud and mismanagement." If we were shareholders, attorneys would be knocking on our doors asking us to sign up for a class action lawsuit demanding a full accounting. We are taxpayers, and are certainly entitled to know the facts.

[DC is audited by one of the big six accounting firms. It's clean bill of health--with some buried caveats--was quite a scandal last year. DC switched to another big six firm this year. jeff]

Gordon Glaza


Schools and Public/Private Partnerships

I was struck by the juxtaposition of the comments on DC schools and the concept of public/private partnerships in the March 11 edition. What concerns me is that--in both areas--the wealthier neighborhoods have the potential of ending up with more control of city services than the poorer parts of town. Already my kids' school (and many others in the "better" neighborhoods) benefits greatly from the economic clout of the students' parents, who regularly chip in for special purchases, teacher aides, etc., though, like all DC schools, much is still lacking due to mismanagement downtown. I doubt that parents in Southeast have the same ability to contribute to their kids' schools. Would the same scenario evolve were public/private partnerships to become fashionable? Do we really want to ration city services according to the community's ability to pay?

Ralph Blessing


Sam LeBlanc asks, "Can the citizens vote to dedicate tax dollars to certain city functions?"

The answer is no. Measures relating to the appropriation of funds are excluded from the initiative and referendum rights granted to the voters under the DC Charter. This exclusion was put there precisely to keep the voters from screwing around with the budget (and pardon my cynicism, but I think the voters would do a far worse job than the Council). It would take a charter amendment to change this, and that would require an Act of Congress.

Arthur Spitzer


Adult Education

One of the proposed cutbacks to the DC Public School budget is to completely eliminate adult education--basic literacy skills training, ESL (English as a second language), and GED (high school equivalency exam) preparation classes. Most people are unaware of these cutbacks because adult ed gets very little press coverage.

Cutting these services is an outrage in a city where the high school drop out rate is over 50% and where over 26% of the population age 18 and over has less than a high school level education. (Source: 1990 Census Report). It is estimated that over 80,000 adults in D.C. are literacy deficient.

As you can imagine, the impacts of illiteracy and undereducation are devastating to an individual and to their family. These impacts include the loss of self-esteem, loss of employment opportunities and earned income, the inability to help children with homework (illiteracy is often passed down from one generation to the next), the inability to access information on health and other issues, the inability to read danger signs, directions for taking medication, etc.

In addition to the personal plight of undereducation, illiteracy also takes a great societal toll. It is estimated that the cost of illiteracy to business and the taxpayer is $20 billion per year. Five billion dollars in taxes go to support people receiving public assistance who are unemployable due to illiteracy. Three-fourths of the unemployed do not have the basic reading skills to be trained for high-tech jobs. One of every ten drivers on the high way cannot read road signs. (Their driving tests were read to them.) $6.6 billion are spent each year for prison maintenance for an estimated 260,000 inmates whose incarcerations are related to illiteracy. One-third of the nation cannot vote. They cannot write a letter to their Senators, to their Reps or the President.

The District of Columbia simply cannot afford to eliminate their adult education programs. Already, demand for these programs far exceeds current available services. DCPS is the largest adult education provider in the city. I direct the Academy of Hope, a non-profit adult education program in D.C. We provide literacy training, GED preparation, and computer skills training to low-income and homeless adults. All of our classes are full. Currently, 130 students are enrolled in our program. We turn away an average of five people a day who call to inquire about our GED classes and we have no place to refer them. Without the public school's adult education program, there will be no place for low-income, undereducated district adults to go in order to become productive members of our community.

Please write the Control Board, the School Board, and the Superintendent telling them not to further cut spending on adult education. If you would like more information, please feel free to contact me.

LeAnna Marr: Executive Director. Academy of Hope


Cable Televsion

District Cablevision must have the absolute worst technicians or equipment. Every time a local advertisement is shown on CNN (channel 42) something goes awry: either the sound disappears or the picture is blurred or distorted. If I were an advertiser I'd be very wary of District Cablevision's capabilities.

BTW, I'm a CNN junkie. I'd love to see both CNN International (with all those anchors with spiffy British accents) and CNNfn, the new financial network, on District Cablevision. I'd be glad to sacrifice Headline News for either one.

Evan Roth



Does anyone know what plans are in store for the old Lad >Mills Exxon Station at the corner of Wisconsin & Q St. in >Georgetown.

This will be a new branch of Chevy Chase Bank in what is supposed to be a nice brick building getting rid of the eyesore that has been there for a while. I believe the use has already been approved at an ANC meeting.

Debbie Stine


In reply to your reader concerning the Exxon station at Wisconsin and Q: rumor has it that Chevy Chase Bank has purchased the building. It is currently being used by the security detail for Warren Christopher, I believe, so their are some issues to resolve.

Charlie Adler Fischer Organization, Inc.


I heard on WTOP last weekend: only two restaurants remain open at Dupont Down Under. So much for that short-lived project. Any ideas on what'll be next in that space?

[Lots of lawsuits. Tenants are suing the developer. I'd doubt too many people would want to come in under such a cloud. jeff]

M. Terrana


Does anyone in the U St./Cardoza area know what happened to Bubba's, the soul food takeout place on 14th and T? It was one of my favorite joints in the neighborhood, really nice people. It closed right after the big snow storms.

Amanda Revere


Power Outages

I live in Chevy Chase, N.W., and just fired off a letter to PEPCO to complain about the high frequency of power interruptions/outages we've had lately (over the last year to 18 months). We live just off Oregon Ave on Beech St, and it seems like every time I turn around I am having to reset all of my digital clocks, and reprogram the TVs and VCRs. Not fun. Anyway, any others experiencing such problems?

Bill Menczer MenczerW@TBP.DOT.GOV



Regardless of the lack of importance of a May presidential primary, any chance for a D.C. resident to express an opinion via a vote is important. Therefore the suggestion that the May election be eliminated is outrageous. Furthermore, it begs the question of why we need to have an election board if they decide not to have elections.

There is something rotten in the attitude of our D.C. government. If election board Executive Director Fremaux cannot find a way to provide elections, perhaps he should step aside for someone who can.

Larry Seftor


Home Rule

We recently returned from Australia where we visited friends in Canberra. I believe the Australian Capitol Territory (ACT) has a population of about 380,000. Can you believe that they increased their representation in Parliament to 3 elected members to reflect the territory's population with respect to the rest of the country.

I suggest we the citizens of DC petition the Australian Embassy to make us the sister city of Canberra, and request technical assistance from the ACT on how to run a capitol in a democracy. They do not seem to have members of Parliament imposing pet political and social theories on a captive capitol population. Maybe every member of Congress who does so should be sent to Canberra for two weeks for a course in civics and representative democracy. I'm willing to work for an organization whose slogan could be "ACT now. Send the Nitwits Down Under."

[In 1978, Canberrans voted with a 63.5 percent plurality to oppose self-rule. The Australian parliament forced home-rule on Canberra in 1988. In its first elections, the No Self-Rule Party won a landslide victory. "...and others have greatest thrust upon them." jeff]

Martin Ganzglass


Ted Gest had some fine suggestions on fixing the schools in the city. He asked why the political debate revolves around "abstract issues like Home Rule." The answer really lies in his first remarks on the schools and why we need to fix them. Part of the American Dream (another esoteric idea) is that we will make life better for succeeding generations. That's why we fix the schools....and that's why we want to give our kids equal rights in the District. Home Rule has failed and we need to replace it with a formula that has been proven to work in 50 other examples.

While everyone is calling for democracy in Cuba, I haven't heard anyone suggest that we replace Castro with A) Home Rule, B) a Control Board, C) Receivership or d) Three Commissioners. Let's first raise the banner for democracy in D.C. Our kids deserve nothing less.

U. S. (Shadow) Rep. John Capozzi



The question as to retrocession is what benefit would it bring Maryland? Additional representation in Congress and additional state taxes is the answer. The problem is that DC is in such terrible shape with high crime, deteriorating infrastructure, notably streets and pipes and an apparently corrupt school system. Therefore, Maryland says it doesn't want DC back. But if the federal government gives DC a major tax break for several years and oversees reforms, a reviving city will be more appealing. Therefore DC residents should ask for retrocession with a long-term federal tax break, plus a long-term DC subsidy to Maryland to help offset the pains and costs of the switch.

Another reader recently asked if the name could continue as Washington, DC, instead of Washington, MD. Only the authorities in Annapolis can answer that, but the state could always consider it. Perhaps the federal largesse could be a bargaining tool for allowing the city to be a district instead of a county.

T.G. Matthes


Property Taxes

Sorry to spoil the upper NW kvetch-fest, but my three houses, one in Foggy Bottom, two in Glover Park all went down in assessed value. We might still appeal one, since we just bought it for 15% less than its newly lowered assessment.

Taylor Simmons


In recognition of Women's History Month and the Smithsonian's 150th anniversary, Andrew Connors, associate curator at the National Museum of American Art, will present an illustrated lecture, "Art for Science: Botanical Illustration and Photography by Mary Vaux Walcott." In 1925, 400 of Walcott's illustrations were published by the Smithsonian in a five-volume set titled "North American Wild Flowers." Connors talk will be richly illustrated with slides of the Canadian Rockies, the desert Southwest, and other locations where Walcott focused her artistic and scientific talents.

21 March 1996. 7:30 p.m. Education Building Auditorium. National Zoo. Enter at Connecticut Ave. Park in Lot A. Free but RSVP requested.

Margie Gibson NZPEM053@SIVM.SI.EDU


Historic Mount Pleasant is sponsoring a Spring Clean-Up, for the streets and sidewalks near Adams Mill Road and Klingle Road NW. Neighbors will work together on Saturday, March 23, 9:00 am to noon. We will remove bottles, cans, hubcaps, debris, branches, etc. The DPW will pick up the trash bags when we are done. Please bring rakes, shovels, brooms, trash bags, gloves.

Gordon Glaza

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Jeffrey Itell Publisher: dc.story

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