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July 28, 1999

School’s Out

Dear Students:

As we've been commenting for the past few issues, DC's schools continue to flounder, and no one seems to have a solution for improving their governance, much less for improving the schools themselves. The Control Board and the Emergency Education Board of Trustees try to prove they're competent by being autocratic, and by cutting the citizens out of the process. Superintendent Arlene Ackerman acts as though she's accountable only to the Control Board, and can barely contain her contempt for the public and parents. And the members of the elected School Board, all of them on both sides of the Wilma Harvey controversy, seem to be trying to prove that they aren't capable of reassuming control over public education. Does anyone have any constructive suggestions for digging ourselves out of this mess?

Gary Imhoff


School Board Implodes, Democracy Erodes, and Children Pay
Mark Richards, Dupont East,

I don't have children so this issue is not near to me beyond sending in my tax check. Nobody said democracy was pretty. But in the “Capital of Democracy,” the debate is heating up again over whether a minimal form of representative democracy is even possible or desirable. District citizens apparently can't elect representatives who dispel the aristocratic “people are too incompetent to decide” argument. Deborah Simmons of The Times (7/26) suggests giving control of the system to the mayor and either making the Board advisory or abolishing it. The later would effectively lower DC's total number of elected officials from 25 to 14. Former DC Control Board member Joyce Ladner also seems to think the school board is dispensable (The Post, 7/27). Ladner writes that they micromanage the superintendent's office and the schools in their own Wards rather than sticking to their job: “to conduct oversight in a policy-making role.” Peter Steiner aptly conveys how many onlookers feel in his daily comic in The Times (7/28): “Remember, boys and girls: these things can hurt you... drugs, crime, D.C. School Board.” Meanwhile, I asked a cab driver what he knows about the rundown Francis school in West Dupont which has more broken windows than whole ones, and he tells me it's used for minority kids. He thinks that's why it's so rundown.

The Post (7/25) reported that the D.C. Appleseed Center is “researching how effective school boards work and plans to issue a report in the fall to spark a citywide discussion on school governance.” Hopefully, they'll also consider how the District must ACTUALLY work in its current colonial arrangement — as Valerie Strauss and Debbi Wilgoren (The Post, 7/25) point out, Ackerman “works under the most cumbersome system of school governance in the United States. Other Superintendents answer to a school board and a state education agency; she faces five bodies: Congress, the control board, the D.C. Council, the trustees panel and the school board.” And I add that Congress oversees DC in both Houses, two full committees, and four subcommittees — not in one place. So, yes, structurally, we're not like other areas. But we can't change this by abolishing the only body that is elected to oversee the school system. In this American outpost, the buck stops everywhere/nowhere. I'd like to see a quantitative opinion survey of all members of the school board, trustees, council, principals, and a sampling of teachers to get a perspective of what they think would repair the system, along with the expert report. I hope the expert report reviews why we went from an unelected to an elected Board in the first place, and places the issue in the context of our peculiar situation. Feuding will exist, elected or not — it will simply be shifted. Perhaps there are merits to having an appointed or an advisory Board, but the issue is probably larger than the Board itself. Like it or not, the Board is a stepping stone to higher elected office. With only one elected Councilmember for over 40,000 people, and ANC positions that are mostly powerless and thankless jobs, there are few areas for civic minded citizens to learn the art of popular governing as they work their way through the ranks. Mayor Williams is quoted by the Post (7/28) as saying, “I am deeply disappointed at the recent turmoil within our elected school board. The school board is the oldest form of elected government in our city, and as such is important to our struggle for true democracy and self-determination.” Bravo. That is the perspective from which citizens should examine this hard question. There is no formula; it is a local decision that needs careful thought. In the meantime, how do you put a broken egg back together when you can't run out and buy a new hen? Let's hope Kevin Chavous has some ideas.


Comments on Wilma Harvey Ouster
Mara Cherkasky,

A friend who worked for the school board last year sent me these comments when I asked his opinion on the latest school board antics: “I think Wilma has the best of intentions and was forced to work with a bunch of bozos more concerned about getting back their reserved parking spots.

“I don't trust the motivations of the six people who voted to have her removed. Tonya Vidal Kinlow (At-Large) is sharp enough, but has larger, ambitious political intentions. Do you remember the City Paper article on her family? Benjamin Bonham (Ward 6) also has greater political expectations. Besides that, he's not the sharpest tack in the box (and the box has a lot of duds). Don Reeves (Ward 3) is crazy. He was president before Wilma and has always been out to get her. I think she is more successful then he was, and it is simply a case of sour grapes. The other two are new: Westy Byrd and Singleton. Don't know much about Westy Byrd, but Singleton becomes president. Hmm, that's convenient.

“Overall, I think Wilma tried as best she could to get the Board to work together and could have been very effective if she had a better group to work with. They just couldn't get their act together. Half of them never came to meetings or left early. None of them knew anything about education. All they wanted to do was embarrass Arlene Ackerman.

“I hope they never have their power restored to them. The Board of Trustees isn't much better, but they rubber-stamp all recommendations put forward by Ackerman who I think is doing a really good job.”


Connie Ridgway,

Why don't we tie any raise (in our school superintendent's salary) to performance, as the suburbs are now doing (see Sunday's Metro section). If test scores go up, or other objective measures improve, she gets her raise.


Arlene Ackerman’s Contract
Michele Rhodes,

Thank you for posting my rant. But it was misprinted. “I will be sorely disappointed (although not surprised) if the Control Board extends her contract and allows her protection from a illegitimately disenchanted elected School Board” should have been “legitimately disenchanted.” I checked the original text and that is what I wrote. I would hate for anyone to think that I don't recognize the legitimacy of our elected officials!

[That's absolutely true; it was an editing error — I can remember misreading the post as saying the “legitimately disenfranchised School Board” and thinking that what was really meant had to be “illegitimately disenfranchised.” How “disenchanted” become “disenfranchised” isn't exactly a mystery in my mind, but I'm terribly disappointed that I only got to late July before making my first mistake of the year. — Gary Imhoff]


New Improved Department of Motor Vehicles?
Kelly Parden, Kalorama,

I've always defended critics of DC's Department of Motor Vehicles in the nine years I've lived in the District. Even during the worst of the Barry years I rarely encountered any problems other than occasionally long lines. Now, however, I am totally frustrated with the who-gives-a-damn attitude of DMV employees who refuse to send me the residential parking permit that I have already paid for. I've talked to four people so far. One lied to me. One ignored me. One yelled at me (and I swear I was nice until she yelled first!). And the fourth was quite motherly in telling me that there's “...nothing I can do. Here's the number for the Public Advocate.” And that, believe it or not, was the new citywide help line (727-1000) that Mayor Williams so proudly launched a while back. While this last woman I spoke with was certainly pleasant, help was not on the menu. She did comment that residential parking permits seem to be a big problem this year. Is anyone else having a difficult time getting parking permits?

[Mine didn't come today in the same envelope with the registration and tags, so I'll start the process tomorrow. Cynthia Hobbs Newman, the new head of the DMV, was originally appointed by Mayor Williams to improve customer service throughout the District government, and then moved to the DMV especially to work on customer service issues there. You may want to take your case up directly with her. — Gary Imhoff]


Quote for the New Millennium, Kudos to Istook
Mark Richards, East Dupont,

Rep. Jim Moran, D-VA on House amendments to D.C.'s $6.8 billion local budget of which $453 million is federal money: “D.C. is no longer a sharecropper settlement on a congressional plantation. We should be treating it like every other city in American.” (Washington Times, 7/28/99)

Rep. Ernest Istook, R-OK, Chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District, and his staff, should be thanked for treating the District with a level of respect not seen from Republicans in a long time. Let's hope it's a trend.


Suing Telemarketers
David F. Power,

Austin Kelly said there are many, many ways you can claim $500 per call from telemarketers. He is absolutely right! If junk faxes are your main beef, the law and regulations I linked do confirm that even one junk fax is a violation. My personal pet peeve was multiple calls from the same credit card company. I could have written twice as much explanation, but didn't want to be a “blowbagger.” It is critically important to remember that we cannot file our claims in "federal" court, but must bring the claims in local small claims court. It seems wacky, but that's what the law says. The local newspaper, The Common Denominator, had a column recently saying that you should sue telemarketers in federal court. That is just wrong. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued a decision throwing out at least one case against telemarketers because the case was started in federal court instead of state small claims court. The Fourth Circuit said Congress created a federal cause of action which could ONLY be filed in state small claims court. Same disclaimers as my last post.


More on Fewer Cinemas
Mark Jenkins,

Number 10 on Larry Seftor's list of vanished local moviehouses is the Studio, a terrible theater that few people mourned. Others could be added, including the West End (which just closed last year), the Circle, the Senator, and the Penn, as well as the last of the downtown houses: Keith's, the Palace, the Town, and so on. I would be glad to have many of them back.

Nonetheless, this is not a matter of Washington's decline but of national trends in the movie-exhibition business; what's happening here is happening in other cities and in the suburbs too. The major chains dominate, and they no longer intend to run one-, two-, or even five-screen cinemas. Video killed most of the second-run, repertory, and ethnic business that once supported shabby old theaters in less upscale neighborhoods, and consolidation in the industry has made it virtually impossible for local operators to survive. I prefer neighborhood theaters with individual character, but they are doomed, here as elsewhere. My guess is that in five years there will be more commercial screens in D.C. than there are now, but that several more one-to-five-screen cinemas will close. By the way, there are cinematic plans afoot for the Embassy site.


Response to Down for the Count
Dave Nuttycombe,

The movie theaters that Larry Seftor, asked about, which used to be on Wisconsin Avenue where Babe's Billiards is now was the K-B Studio. It closed in May 1991. It had three not terribly large screens and you had to ride an escalator up a flight to get to them. I saw “Slither” there. Also “Under the Rainbow.” First run, too.


Enforcing the Law
Ed T. Barron,

Although it seems to be a less practical and greatly unpopular use of police resources to enforce traffic laws in NW D.C., one should look at what was done in NY City when Mayor Guilliani first started enforcing some very simple and basic laws. The first was to curb the pervasive “window washers.” By enforcing these basic laws, littering et al, a whole new climate emerged in the city. NY is a much cleaner and safer place to be as a result of enforcing traffic and other basic laws.

Yes, we do need to attack the hard core criminal elements in the worst places in the city. That can only be done by posting a regular on-the-street presence in the bad areas of the city and establishing real relationships between the cops and the residents/businesses. Street policing is the best answer to turn around neighborhoods that are currently unsafe and largely unpoliced. Police Chief Ramsey said, when he was hired, that community policing was what he would do in the District. Big talk, no walk.


Reply: Crime at 16th Street and Meridian Hill Park
Michael Wilkinson,

Annie McCormick asked what to do about the steady stream of auto break-ins near her home at 16th and W. During the four years I have lived at New Hampshire and V, I have never had a car broken into, but have seen the auto glass to which she refers. I have a two-pronged approach to defending my property which I think has been very successful, and could provide some self-defense for her and her visiting friends. One, I drive an inconspicuous (read: boring) car. Unless she wants to advise her friends to run out and buy a brown Saturn just to visit her in DC, this may not be very helpful. Two, I leave absolutely NOTHING in the car that might tempt the thieves. This includes real stuff (checkbook, cassettes/CDs in plain view) and clutter (clothes, address book, newspapers, magazines). Even if it's only worth pennies, if a thief thinks there might be pay dirt under the paper/clothes, etc., they'll bust in.

Here's a discovery I recently made: for information about crime in your district, visit and sign onto the E-mail distribution list. You'll get a daily digest of crimes reported to your district HQ. There'll be a bunch of auto break-ins. You can spot trends and gain some insight into where not to park.


Starpower and the Richmond
Sara Cormeny,

I hope Mark hasn't been misled by Starpower — The Richmond condominium is waiting for Starpower to be installed. We do indeed have an agreement, but the service is still forthcoming (next couple of weeks was the last that I heard, though no residents have been contacted about payment plans or to schedule installation or anything. We have received brochures in our mail boxes).

All that being said I'm very much looking forward to it as a Richmond resident! I hear great things about their Internet access and the TV viewing, but not such good stuff about them as a telephone service provider.


Clam Diggers
Ed T. Barron,

Today I am bemoaning the untimely demise of clam diggers. These were the male equivalents of women's pedal pushers in the 50s and 60s. Much like the baseball trousers of the really “old days,” clam diggers had a nice trim, light, New England Summery panache. They were handy for clam digging, of course, great for bicycle riding (no bicycle clip needed — if anyone even remembers what a bicycle clip was), and generally a neat piece of very casual, but sartorial splendor. They are white with thin red, white and blue piping down the outside leg seams. A pretty natty outfit.

Clam diggers and pedal pushers are better than shorts because they conceal one of the least beautiful parts of the male and female anatomy, the knees. I can't remember ever being turned on by anyone's knees. If you, in your fondest memories, recall a super appealing person of the opposite sex, I think you would be hard pressed to describe his or her knees. Knees are like garbage men. We hardly ever really see them. The only time I can remember seeing knees is at picnics when we are all sitting in beach chairs telling war stories and sipping a cold beer. For some reason the knees really stand out with all the folks wearing shorts at picnics.

A couple of years ago I wrote to the President of Land's End. I encouraged him to bring back the clam diggers. He replied, in short order, to tell me that there did not appear to be much of a demand for these items. In fact, he said, I was the only person he could remember who ever asked what had happened to clam diggers. Unfortunately there were no remaining clam diggers in inventory or warehouses so he could not fulfill my request. Perhaps it is time, in this era of retro, where automobiles are beginning to look more like the cars of old, where World War II is once again very popular, to rise up and create a demand for clam diggers and pedal pushers. A few letters to the President of Land's End would not be out of order and just might inspire him to do some test marketing next Summer with a line of clam diggers and pedal pushers. I'll be the first to order some.


Limiting Submissions
Mark Whitty,

People trying to keep their messages short might be inspired by the prime minister of the UK in the mid thirties. Stanley Baldwin, a very canny politician was notoriously disinterested in foreign affairs. He once asked the very young foreign secretary Anthony Eden for a report on the situation in the rest of the world. On ONE page.


The Shortest Posting That You've Seen Yet in themail Concerning Balderdash, Blowbaggers, Brevity, and “All the News That Fits, We Print”
Charlie Wellander,



Bathroom Remodeling Needed
Victor Chudowsky,

I need to have two bathrooms in my house renovated. Can someone on the list please suggest a good contractor to do this type of work? It's a medium sized job. Please respond to Thanks.



Music Recital
Bruce Snyder,

American violist Sharon Eng and Indonesian pianist Ary Sutedja will present Tears: Post-Romantic 20th Century Music for Viola and Piano on August 3rd at 7:00 PM at the Washington Ethical Society Auditorium, 7750 16th St. NW, DC. The suggested $10.00 donation will benefit Miriam's House, a residence for homeless women with AIDS.

Program: Benjamin Britten: Lachrymae, op. 48 (1950) "Reflections on a song of Dowland"; Elliott Carter: Elegy (1943); Trisutji Kamal: Tears (December, 1998); Dmitry Shostakovitch: Sonata for Viola and Piano, op. 147 (1975); Paul Hindemith: Sonata for Viola and Piano, op. 25, #4 (1922).


Embassy of Israel Evening
Michael Karlan,

Evening at the Embassy of Israel — Israeli wine tasting, Israeli cuisine, Israeli dance presentation, and Israeli band. Thursday, August 5, 1999, from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sponsored by DC Society of Young Professionals and Israel Bonds New Leadership Division. Cost of $45 with partial proceeds benefiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Due to security restrictions at the Embassy, you must RSVP by August 2. For more information or to RSVP, please call 686-6085.


Friday Political Bullpen
Bill Rice,

Newspeople and newsmakers will gather Friday, July 30, after work (around 6:30 pm), at the Senators Sports Bar in the Holiday Inn directly across from the Capitol Hill Hyatt on New Jersey Avenue, NW, a few steps from 1 Judiciary Square. Spread the word!



Auto Wanted
Michael Wilkinson,

SWM, 28 y.o., new homeowner, ISO SW for weekend fun, possible LTR. Prefer middle-aged Subaru, Volvo, Corolla or Civic station wagon, born between 1980 and 1990. I'd go with a much older Swede, as long as she had the right attitude and a good frame. Must be reliable and interested in going out on weekends, possibly lifting weights. Does not have to be pretty. Because I just bought a house, I cannot spend too much money on this relationship. If you know of anyone interested, E-mail or call 202-483-2271.


Dave Nuttycombe,

From's LOOSE LIPS column, appearing this Friday:
LOOSE LIPS is recovering from an injury and will return soon. Get-well wishes may be sent to Oh, come on — be nice.
Read the Loose Lips archives here:

From's CITY LIGHTS page, here are a few early warnings for upcoming events:
SATURDAY, July 31: The Village People, 10 p.m. at Nation, 1015 Half St. SE. $25.
TUESDAY, Aug. 3-8: Will Durst, 8:30 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday and Sunday, and 8 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, from Tuesday, Aug. 3, to Sunday, Aug. 8, at the Improv, 1140 Connecticut Ave. NW. $12-$15.
More details and more critics' picks are available online at


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