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August 1, 1999

Fingernails on the Blackboard

Dear Scholars:

As earnest students of good government and good governance, we are still in search of more constructive suggestions. The elected school board has failed to improve schools, and is a public embarrassment. The appointed trustees have failed to improve schools, and the only reason that they aren't a public embarrassment is that they don't work in public, but in secret. The City Council and the Mayor are most interested in making sure that people understand that they aren't legally responsible for improving schools. Some thoughtful commentators have begun to call for abolishing the elected school board; everybody agrees that it's a good thing the Emergency Board of Trustees is going to be dissolved. So what's next? If everybody else is at a loss, your thoughtful model of an effective, workable way to run schools in the District will certainly be adopted by default. Do I see a hand raised in the back of the room?

Department of Corrections: Rachel Roberts points out that the new head of the Department of Motor Vehicles is Cheryl, not Cynthia, Hobbs Newman. That's Cheryl Hobbs Newman.

Gary Imhoff


They Ain’t Makin’ ’Em Like They Used To
Ed T. Barron,

And I'm talking about the elected School Board in D.C. In the many urban and suburban communities that I lived in before coming to D.C. some 12 years ago, these communities all had elected school boards. Almost all of those elected and serving on these boards (in unpaid positions, by the way) were concerned parents or concerned taxpayers. All of those who made themselves candidates for election to the local school board had a mission. When I ran for, and was elected to, the school board in the community we lived in, prior to coming to Washington, my own mission was to ensure that the four kids I had in my district's schools would be getting the best education possible. These local boards had their share of political infighting (I can show you my scars for the six years I served) but it was merely a fraction of the divisiveness and mean-spiritedness we find on the D.C. elected board. The mission of those running for the school board in D.C. is entirely different. They all want to gain notoriety. (Not fame, that comes only after you are dead. Ask John Kent Cooke.) They want this notoriety so that they can run for election to the City Council. And then they want (as we have seen on today's City Council) to use that position to run for Mayor.

In spite of the somewhat political nature of the community school boards that I have worked with, these boards were, invariably, committed to making things happen that were in the best interest of the students. When things needed to be done by these boards, they stepped up to the plate and worked together as a team to get them done. Not so here in D.C. And now we have a hue and cry for an appointed school board to replace the elected Board. Now that's another chuckle. Who will do the appointing? Why the politicians, of course. And so we go full circle. The guy who thinks he has all the answers to D.C.'s problems is really stumped on this one. All I know for sure is that when it comes to school boards in D.C., they ain't makin' 'em like they used to.


Constructive Suggestions on the School Situation
Andrea Carlson,

The first, most immediate thing that needs to happen is for the Control Board to hold Arlene Ackerman accountable. Reportedly, they had planned to slip her a sweetheart of a deal (outlined in detail in the Common Denominator's most recent issue) without informing the public. Isn't it ironic that the board set up to enforce accountability is pulling the same kind of tricks that got our city into trouble in the first place? She was supposed to design her own performance evaluation criteria (don't we all wish we could do that?), but hasn't even bothered to submit that, let alone any evidence that she's actually improving schools. It seems only fair that those being “served,” i.e., parents of schoolchildren and students themselves, should have some input here as well. Before awarding any kind of raise, the Control Board ought to send out surveys to all households with students enrolled in DC public schools, asking them detailed questions about their satisfaction with the services they're receiving. The city needs middle class families if it wants to become a healthy, functional place. Folks in charge would be wise to start treating us, their paying customers, with more respect.


A Question
Steph “Certified querent, some say certified lunatic” Faul,

OK, somebody PLEASE explain to me: What's all the fuss about finding “certified” teachers? Is there any evidence they're better than plain vanilla teachers? I'm puzzled for several reasons: (1) I went to a fancy pants private school where people now pay $10,000/year tuition and half the graduating class heads off to the Ivy League, yet I don't think any of the teachers are certified. (2) Certification in general has traditionally served two purposes: to earn money for the certifying organization and to keep new entrants out of the field. Thus the requirements for becoming a CPA keep getting stricter, ditto various other sorts of professional certifications. (3) Universities cheerfully hire adjunct faculty qualified only with an advanced degree in the field they'll teach. Why can't high schools?


School “Police”
Frank Method,

Regarding the school police cars licensed in VA — it has taken a year, but I understand that they have now been re-registered — at least they were instructed to do so by the Council. The registration of the cars, however, is not the main point. To the best of my knowledge, the DCPS does not have a police force. It has a security contractor which provides school security personnel. There is no legal basis or even clear authority for calling this a police force. Just because they paint the words School Police on the cars does not give them police powers, particularly off school property. Note: one way to be sure of the difference between the legitimate police forces and the proliferating security services and other ersatz police entities around town is that only the police are allowed to use the red and blue lights on their cars — the others use amber or other colors.


A Glimmer of Hope
Ann C. Barron,

In a Post article this week spokespersons for UDC attributed the decline in enrollment at UDC to the Mayor's announcement that the school would be moved to Anacostia. That's a bunch of tripe (both the move and the reaction to the announcement). But, buried in that same article, was a glimmer of hope for UDC. UDC officials say that they plan to begin offering courses that will prepare graduates from D.C. High Schools to enter the work force. That's the first sign that UDC recognizes that they must change their mission to be successful in helping the students of this city.


A Shower of Tax Cuts
Robert Marvin,

Congress wants to prevent our government from implementing a host of social programs, but the great legislative body at 1 Pennsylvania Avenue is considering two provisions that would lower our tax burden. Surprisingly, the language to help our city was included in the bill's Senate version at the behest of a Republican Sen. Connie Mack from Florida. Surprising because the GOP is not known usually as a friend of this or any city. It is not important at this stage that President Clinton vowed to veto the $792 billion bill. What counts is that the current bill will provide a blueprint for a smaller tax cut bill that could be enacted this fall. So, the D.C. language must be included in the final version of the veto bill, if it is going to be enacted this fall.

The fate of the D.C. tax cuts will be determined later this summer when the Senate, which approved the incentives, and the House, which did not, meet to iron out their differences. If the D.C. provisions survive this conference on the veto bill, they probably will be included in the smaller bill that will emerge this fall. There are two D.C.-related tax provisions: 1. The $5,000 tax credit for first time home buyers that is set to expire at the end of next year would be extended until December 31, 2001. The credit still is only $2,500 for married couples filing separately and is phased out for couples earning between $110,000 and $130,000. For individuals, the credit is phased out for those earning between $70,000 and $90,000. 2. The zero percent capital gains tax rate for assets held more than 5 years would be extended to the entire city, not only to those areas below the 10 percent poverty rate. The zero rate would still only apply to qualified enterprise zone businesses. Congress should be scolded for trying to decide how the D.C. government should spend on its (our) money, but, on this local issue, those guys and gals up on that Hill are not all that bad.


Victor Chudowsky, Woodley Park,

Re: the drought and the heat; you would never know this from the way DC Water and Sewer behaves. The corner of 29th and Cortland NW in Woodley Park has a water main breakage which has remained unfixed for more than five weeks. In that time, they have managed to paint a few lines on the ground and set up some orange cones, despite continuous calls from residents. Meanwhile, there is a veritable tsunami of water running down the street and into the sewer. Thousands of gallons a day, representing a sizable sum of money. On some days there is a little geyser coming up out of the ground, like a miniature Old Faithful. We are so used to it, that now we are ready to plan waterfront cookouts, beach volleyball, and kayaking expeditions. Fishing, even.


Campaign Promises
Timothy Cooper,

The City Paper raised a red flag this past week regarding Mayor Anthony William's “special guest” status at Rep. Istook's (R-OK) forthcoming fundraiser. While I believe that Mayor Williams can legitimately claim to be engaging in the well-worn art of DC realpolitic by communing with the Congressional head of the House District Committee, his visible participation in this event quickly brings to mind a campaign pledge he made last summer at the “Stand Up for Democracy” mayoral candidate's forum, moderated by the inimitable Tom Sherwood.

At the forum, then candidate Williams pledged to establish a “democracy trust” if and when he was elected to high office. According to Williams, this activist trust would be comprised of some of the best minds and talent available to reach out for the requisite national support to secure true democracy and equal rights for DC residents. His thought was to compliment that force with a significant level of funding, thereby creating a war chest to support his grand strategy. I believe it is time that Mayor Williams revisited his campaign pledge made last August, and embark on a guided mission to establish his "democracy trust" in the name of high principle and basic rights for all Americans.


DMV in 1999
Lucy Mallan,

DMV is improving in sectors, apparently. The license renewal, tag renewal, and other routine fill-in-a-form, pay your money and get your document system is incredibly swift and efficient, using the system the passport people use: i.e., take a number and wait till you're called. So fast it's difficult to get the form filled out in time, so that's good.

Car inspection not so good, at least the day I was there was very hot and they had one lane open. So the wait was as long as it used to be in the so called “light” period of the day. About an hour from arrival to start of inspection at 2 pm. The good news is they have a nice place to wait while your car is actually being inspected, but that's never been the long part of the wait. So that's bad. Apparently the hole (sic) is still greater than SOME of its parts.


Clam Diggers
Kerry Jo Richards,

I'm writing in response to Ed Barron's moaning about the demise of clam diggers. ED! Be HAPPY! And head out to Adams Morgan on Friday night. You'll see more clam diggers and petal pushers than you've seen in years. They're quite the rage — especially among the young professional set. I, myself, have two pairs! Black for evening and stretchy jean material for the daytime. I agree that they are fun, flattering, and classier than a pair of shorts any day. And with the right pair of flippy platform shoes ... well, my calves never looked so good. Heehehe.


Clam Diggers
Stephanie Faul,

I don't miss 'em a bit, Ed, in part because I have a 33" inseam so virtually every pair of women's' pants already fit me like clam diggers. My suggestion: buy a pair of pants. Take them to the tailor. Pay $10 to have the legs shortened. Presto — Clam diggers! If you're married or have a girlfriend or something, she might even do it for free, or show you how to do it. But you do need a second person to pin up the legs so they're the same length.

Oh, and one more thing: if you don't think knees matter, rent and watch “Claire's Knee,” directed by Eric Rohmer. You'll never diss knees again.


Peter Luger, Mt. Pleasant,

Are non-Jews allowed to go to the Israeli Embassy event? (just kidding)



RLA Columbia Heights Hearing
Dorothy Brizill,

The Redevelopment Land Agency is going to have yet one more public hearing on granting development rights to four land parcels that are key to commercial development in Columbia Heights, on Wednesday, August 4, at 7:00 p.m., at Sacred Heart Church, 16th Street and Park Road, NW. The purpose of the meeting is to bring the three newly appointment members of the Redevelopment Land Agency Board up to speed on the four competing proposals for the redevelopment of five acres of city owned land near the future Metro station in Columbia Heights. This land has remained undeveloped since the city assumed ownership after the 1968 riots. The pending RLA vote to award development rights has been postponed from early May until September so that Mayor Williams could appoint three new members to the Board. The meeting place that the Board has chosen isn't air conditioned and has no windows, isn't handicapped accessible, lacks a public address system, has no off-street parking, and has has inadequate restroom facilities, but the meeting is important for neighborhood economic development, and as many people as possible should still attend.


Mount Pleasant Dog Show
Julie Makinen Bowles,

Attention zany dogs and your humans: Mark your calendars for Mount Pleasant's annual Pups in the Park dog show. Saturday, Aug. 28 in Lamont Park, at the corner of Lamont Street and Mount Pleasant Street, across from Heller's Bakery. Contestant check-in begins at 9 a.m., and the contests start at 10 a.m. Contests this year include best bark, most obedient, waggiest tail, best trick, most adorable and more. Prizes will be awarded! We will also have presentations by the D.C. police department K-9 unit, a dog trainer and a groomer. It's all free! You don't have to live in Mount Pleasant. In fact, if you've never been to our neighborhood (just north of Adams-Morgan and east of Cleveland Park), this would be a great chance to come explore. To register your dog, volunteer to help out, or simply get more information, please call Julie at 202-986-7876 or send an email to



Temporary Rental
Edna Small,

Glover Park. 3 bedroom house with piano, deck, clutter. Available all or part of 8/7 to 9/15. Can be rented or shared. 202-337-4906



For Sale — Sail into Summer
Nick Keenan,

Catalina 22 — 22 foot sailboat. An excellent recreational boat, easy to sail. Hull is 1976, sails, mast, and rigging are about 6 years old. You can get an idea of what one looks like at . Currently it is docked on the Potomac in SW DC, and slip fees are paid through March 2000. Has a Honda outboard, VHF radio, inflatable dinghy, 3 sails, lots of accessories. All this for the give-away price of $1000. Will also consider donating to a worthy cause.


Wanted: A Car
Wayson P. Lee,

The Search is on, looking for a shiny compact, 2,3, or 4 doors vehicle, that's stingy with gas, but has great windows. Only two real requirements: cold air-conditioning (heat too) and automatic transmission. Contact ASAP


Computer Printers
Jon Katz,

Seeking up to four used laser and deskjet printer(s) for our PC's. HP 4L/6L, etc. are fine. Please call Jon Katz, Marks & Katz, LLC, (301) 495-4300.


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