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September 26, 1999

Getting There with No Map Is Half the Fun

Dear Lost Souls:

Schools and transportation are our primary topics again in this issue. Nick Keenan's incredible trip, detailed below, raises a question: could a school district administration anywhere else in the country get away with such arrogance toward and contempt for parents and other citizens? There's no map of school boundaries? They know we know they're lying when they say that. Of course there's a map. They just know that nobody — not the Council, not the Board of Education, not the Emergency Board of Trustees, and certainly not the Control Board — will make them respond to the people of DC, and that they can keep the boundary map one of their little secrets. Over the past several years, the only thing that makes the DC schools respond to the citizens or the courts, as in the Garrison School playground case, is being sued in court — where they always lose.

From your responses, the parking meters still aren't working, and are still robbing us. Does DPW know that, and are they keeping it as one of their little secrets?

Thank you for your many positive responses to my rant in the last issue. Sometimes I just get tired of the nonsense, and have to let go; I appreciate your tolerating it.By the way, speaking of past rants, Eric Lipton and Sari Horowitz documented the sky-high salary inflation for top DC government officials in a front-page article in Thursday's paper — Aren't you glad that I'm too modest ever to say “I told you so,” even when I did?

Gary Imhoff


I Could Tell You But I’d Have to Kill You
Nick Keenan, Shaw,

I learned this week that the attendance boundaries of all schools in the District are a secret of the highest order. It seems like basic information, but neither the schools nor anyone in administration will tell you. I talked to about a half-dozen people in DCPS this week, from elementary school secretaries to Ackerman's office, and everywhere the answer was the same: “The computer” is set up so that they can tell you the school for a given address, but there is no way to get the boundaries of the district for a school. Pressing the issue with Ackerman's office, I was told that even the Superintendent doesn't know what the boundaries are, but has to look up addresses individually. Makes me wonder who programs the computer! Being the troublemaker that I am, I tried to outsmart the system and I started asking for the districts of several addresses around my neighborhood, hoping to piece together boundaries from the answers. But they quickly figured me out, and after my second request I was told that the computer was down and I could make no more requests that day.

So why the secrecy? Well, knowledge is power, and DCPS under Ackerman has no interest in sharing power. At the principal's discretion, DC schools allow students to enroll “out of boundary.” Secret boundaries give principals leverage over parents — the principal can claim that a certain student is out of boundary, and thus attends the school at his discretion. If the parent makes trouble the student will be transferred. I have talked with parents who have been threatened by principals in just that manner for getting too involved in the way the school is run. If the boundary is secret, the parent has no rebuttal. Also, I have talked with a teacher who has run into the opposite problem — she has a student who is a discipline problem, she thinks he's out of boundary and should be transferred, but the principal refuses to tell what the boundaries are. So this is accountability and reform?


School Grounds in Need Throughout Shaw
Randy Wells,

One of the most interesting spin-offs of the Garrison field discussion was the offer by Superintendant Ackerman to reseed the field at Shaw Junior High (if only parking were allowed to continue at Garrison). In fact, both the DC Public Schools and DC Department of Recreation (which share responsibility, supposedly, for field and recreation facilities at Shaw) should be ashamed to even mention the Shaw field. The field is a mess, and has never been maintained to any standard. Moreover, an enclosed “indoor-type” soccer area there (which was donated several years ago by corporate sponsors) has now effectively been made unusable by either school or recreation staff.

Now that the discussion of school grounds is open, I would like to suggest at least three other schools that require major grounds improvements: Shaw Junior High (10th St. and Rhode Island Ave, NW), Scott-Montgomery Elementary (P and 5th Sts., NW), and Walker-Jones Elementary (1st and K Sts., NW).


Someone Did Speak Out
Ann Loikow, Cleveland Park,

In her editorial in the September 20, 1999, edition of The Common Denominator entitled “Foul Ball,” editor Kathryn M. Sinzinger did speak out — loudly — about the injustice of the school system's actions in “putting cars ahead of kids” in leasing the Garrison Elementary School playing field to Metropolitan Baptist Church. She noted that “(t)he sweet deal for the politically powerful church — at a cost of only $5,000 per year, which is dirt-cheap parking — smacks of the cronyism that has pervaded public policy decisions in this town for far too long.... Kids need a place to play in their own neighborhoood, near their homes — not in a neighborhood across town to which they need to be bused.... Metropolitan Baptist has other parking options -- including its current overlfow parking at Reeves Center. If the church is able to offer busing for Garrison's ballfield-deprived students, it should be able to offer shuttle service to its own members. A church that values community should not be putting cars ahead of kids....”


For Metropolitan Baptist Church Parking
Naomi J. Monk,

I believe that Gary Imhoff position to be incorrect about the Metropolitan Baptist Church members and attendees parking on the Garrison School premises. I believe that the Metropolitan Baptist Church and Garrison School representatives have had an amicable parking arrangement for over a decade. I see no valid supportive evidence of church parking that interferes with students going about their school activities. I do not believe that Rev H. Beecher Hicks preaches a vicious sermon at any time. I find his sermons to be uplifting and inspiring. I have attended this church off and on for decades. I believe that those attending this church to be of the upper class. My late father who past a few years ago was a church member of this church for over 70 years. I have an Aunt who has been a member of this church for decades and attend this church regularly. I have lived in the most racial cultured neighborhood in Washington, DC, for going on two decades. I believe that I have a realistic understanding of what is going on here.


Columbia Heights Development
Ralston Cox, Strivers' Section/Ward 1,

At the outset, I'll admit that I don't know all the details about each of the Columbia Heights development proposals that were on the table. But from what I did know, I was a supporter of the Forest City development plan, in part because it contemplated retaining the Tivoli Theater as a performing arts space and still included a full-size grocery store in the mix for a neighborhood that badly needs one. I was upset by the quote from Lawrence Guyot in the Post that, in my view, analyzed the RLA vote in starkly racist terms: Guyot “characterized the Forest City supporters as mainly white people and outsiders, while longtime black residents, he said, favored the projects that won. ‘This shows that all people, regardless of race, color or status, understand that economic development can be done with us,’ he said, ‘and not to us.’”

What troubled me more was the Post article a few days later that recounted how the RLA had made its decision. The article seemed to have been developed with the full cooperation and the blessing of RLA board members and was an attempt to put some positive post-decision spin on how they had reached their decision. The Post reported that certain RLA board member(s) were concerned about security at the “family oriented” entertainment complex planned for the west side of 14th Street. RLA Board members, including Interim City Administrator Norman Dong and Robert Walker, were concerned “that the youths the Grid Properties plan could attract might present a public safety threat.” So what do they do about their concerns? “Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey assured board members that police could provide adequate protection....”

So the city is going to be picking up the tab for police protection at a privately-owned facility? Do any other private facilities get such a deal?


DC in Technicolor: We’re Beautiful, Damn It!
Mark Richards, E-Dupont,

My field is sociology — race and class are important constructs. In research, we struggle with measuring it. In the US, skin color is blurred with ethnicity. Census has revised their question — why does someone of “Hispanic” origin not fit in the “black” or “white”? These categories are socially constructed — political categories that are important to people. They won't go away, try though you may: identity issues are under the surface at nearly every meeting from grassroots to the Boardroom. It is generally repressed and cyclically emerges full force and everyone acts surprised or gets huffy. I was in NC during integration — where churches preached integration was evil fueling hate, “black” and “white” kids carried their parent's hate to school, and children beat the hell out of one another, chanting “It's a fight, it's a fight, 'tween the [black] and the white.” My Baptist minister father moved to Mali, a missionary, to build windmill irrigation systems for the next 25 years. There, most people have velvety skin, deep black or caramel brown. Our family were 6 of 15,000 — a true pinkish skinned minority. That I had hair on my arms was novel to many in Tombouctou.

Most ministers see issues in black and white — it suits their world view in which right is right, wrong is wrong — and shades or tonal values are a “slippery slope.” So I understand how Pastor Hicks and missionary-like activists might see the ball park/parking lot as a white/black issue. But most in DC don't see or live in a black and white world — most live in Technicolor. Every day, I see people struggling with issues in this invisible District somewhere outside the country that calls it their nation's capital. I see people of all ethnicities, with a wide variety of eye, lip, and cheek bone shapes and skin tones . . . beautiful people talking, laughing, shouting, touching, dancing, and kissing one another. I see people who've lived here their whole life (and wear it like a status badge) and new people making DC their home, adjusting to one another in ANC meetings, on the sidewalks. I see businesses and home owners struggling to cohabitate. I see gays and straights side-by-side. And I hear a wide array of wonderful languages — we don't speak English only. When I hear the assertion that race is the issue, I don't dismiss it. But I'm suspicious. Maybe I'm blind or living in a dream world, because the DC I see everyday just ISN'T black and white. I wish the Minister and the activists would look around more: as usual, the “little people” are setting the example; they give me confidence that Democracy can out-perform aristocracy or autocracy. Younger generations encourage me because they ARE more integrated than previous ones. We're all mixed, is it so hard to see? The activists and the church members need to pray together, maybe they're get some divine inspiration. God knows they need it.


Knowledge Is Power
Ed T. Barron,

KIP (Knowledge is Power) Academy is the name of two middle schools, one in a poor minority section of Houston, TX, and the other in a similar neighborhood of NY City. Both schools were profiled in a segment of last Sunday's CBS' 60 Minutes. These schools take minority students who come from the worst elementary schools in their respective cities, and transform these poor performing students into students who can learn and achieve. There's no magic involved, just performance and coordinated efforts by the students, the parents, the teachers and the administrators of these two charter schools. All involved must sign a “contract” that they will perform their role to the best of their ability. The parents must get their kids to school every day on time and check the student's homework each night. The students spend a long day in their schools starting at 7:30 in the morning and finishing at 4 PM each afternoon. The students also come to school every Saturday and for one month of the traditional summer break.

This is hard work for all, and it begins with the remedial work needed to bring the poor performing students up to grade level before they can really begin the Middle School program. The results are astounding. Students in these two schools, numbering a few hundred, in total, have achieved remarkable results. The recent graduating class from these two schools won over $1M in scholarships to private high schools around the country. It shows that minority kids from poor neighborhoods and poor schools can learn in the right environment with the support of parents and teachers. Bring on more of these Charter schools. I hope they will soon establish a Middle School here in D.C..


Metro Reality Check
Rich Mintz,

As a longtime DC-area resident who's in the process of being transferred from the District to Atlanta, can I offer a little perspective? Metro has its problems, but it seems a little extreme to think of it as a disastrous failure, as some people do seem to feel based on recent press. For a large subset of the very large number of people it moves, Metro — and I mean both rail and bus, having used both extensively — works very well. Bus and rail connections (in general) are well coordinated, bus lines in densely populated areas run reasonably frequently or better, timeliness on the bus system is (in my experience) EXCEPTIONALLY good. (In general, you can set your watch by the time the bus arrives at your stop.) Having used public transit heavily in Boston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles (I lived without a car in LA for over a year), I have been very favorably impressed (comparatively) with service levels and convenience in Washington. True, service tends to follow traditional hub-and-spoke routes, but that's a historical fact that will change over time to the extent that the public demands it and allows it to be funded. If you want equal convenience, privacy and flexibility to the private auto, you won't get it from Metro — but you're also asking for something that a shared transportation mode, by definition, can't give you.


The New Metrobus
Tom Berry,

Yesterday's (22nd) article in the Post prompts me to get off my duff. So, let's have fun and review the new half-size Metrobus. Style and Size: you have to give it an A. Metro has finally done what many have been saying for years, if not decades. A full-size bus carrying five people is not efficient. It's a good move to downsize. And, they are kinda cute. Noise Level: Metro gets an F. These damn buses sound like a Formula One racer screaming away from the starting grid, then they shift into second gear and seemingly stay there. Don't wanna miss the bus? Have no fear; you can hear them coming at least two blocks away, often when you're still indoors.

If there was a noise restriction law in DC, these mini-screamers would surely fail any decibel test. Also, the constant high RPM level will surely make the maintenance cost of these buses most interesting future taxpayer fodder. PA System: another F. Is there not a volume control on this system? The doors open (facing away from your reviewer, who is approximately 150 yards away with a large house and trees to muffle the sound) and one can still clearly hear “Welcome aboard Metrobus....” Can you imaging how glorious this announcement must sound to the boarding rider? Or to those who reside on the door-opening side of the bus? How about the driver? According to the Post article these buses were built by some company named Orion. Last I knew, Orion was some hunter in the sky. Here, he's the big noisemaker in DC.

PS: Your curmudeonly reviewer admits he hasn't ridden one of these buses. He's afraid to further damage his already impaired hearing thanks to the ravages of age and a history of too much loud rock music. In addition, be aware that this reviewer does not carry the weight of a Phyllis Richman restaurant review and cannot, therefore, make or break Metrobus.


Meter Problems
Ann Loikow, Cleveland Park,

I, too, today ran into a nonworking parking meter in Cleveland Park that gobbled my money. Luckily I watched the first coin not register and tried again with a nickel (to minimize my losses if it didn't work) and this time the meter read “out of order.” At that point I left a note on my windshield and went into a store and called the Parking Administration (202-541-6030) and reported the nonworking meter (No. CT 344.7 NW). I'll try to watch and see how long it takes to get repaired.


Parking Meters
Jef Frasco,

Yesterday, 9/22/99, I had a meeting at the Ronald Reagan building. I pulled up to a meter at the corner of 14th and Constitution. Blindly, I put two quarters in. Then I looked to see how much time was registered. To my dismay, zero minutes instead of the forty which should have been there. Backed up to the next meter and dropped in one quarter which credited the proper time. Put in my remaining five quarters which all worked fine.


Meters, Meters
Martha Saccocio,

Parking Meters — I have trouble with them not crediting coins often. It's never annoying enough to report. Sometimes it does seem if you put the coins in slowly, it works better. Just yesterday, a meter on Wisconsin and Albemarle gave me trouble, so if they're been “recalibrated,” it didn't work too well. Is there a number we should call when this happens?


More Meters
Kenneth Nellis,

In response to questions asked by both Margaret Siegel and Gary Imhoff, I'll chime in with my experience: several weeks ago at a meter on Newark St., west of Wisconsin Ave., a meter failed to recognize my contribution. Noticing the problem I chose not to feed it more money, but felt anxious about the possibility of getting a ticket.


Fewer Than 100 Days
Ed T. Barron,

With fewer than 100 days before the Y2K monster (or gremlins) inflicts chaos upon the District of Columbia we have seen a little taste of that chaos when the Metro System Computer went south for forty minutes last Friday. If the system fails due to problems with Y2K it won't likely be fixed in forty-five minutes. My prediction holds that the Metro and traffic signals in the District will have computer problems that will render traffic a real mess. NBC National News reported, this week, that the District is less than 10% prepared with its systems and that is the lowest level of preparation for any major(???) city in the U.S. I don't know where NBC gets its data for this scoring but the mayor claims that 75+% of the systems are compliant.

Since I won't be doing any traveling into the city for the early part of next year, my only real concern is that the water system may not deliver potable water. I think the system will deliver water, it just might not be properly treated and, hence, undrinkable. To give our small family some relief from that contingency we are saving one gallon milk jugs and will fill them with drinkable water prior to the end of the year. We'll put up about four gallons for each adult and two for the hound which should get us through the first few days. After that we can refill the jugs in VA or MD at friends' houses, if necessary. I am not worried about stoppage of electricity or natural gas but will stock in a few extra items in the freezer and some extra canned goods in the event that deliveries to my local Super Fresh are hampered by any traffic chaos. Time to start the preparations.



Educational Theater Company Classes (New Telephone Number)
Stan Kang,

Educational Theater Company (ETC) fall classes for young people, taught by local theater professionals. Shakespeare and improvisation classes offered in both Arlington and DC (ages 8-18). Classes start October 12, call for a brochure today! (703) 271-0222, E-mail: 



Conference/Retreat Space Sought
Jon Katz,

I'm helping a non-profit trial lawyers seminar group seeks a conference/retreat space in the Washington, D.C., area that offers the following. Please let me know your ideas. One place I heard about is Early in Virginia (I can't find them in the Internet). The location should be no more than two hours from a major airport, and should be away from downtown areas, and bar and restaurant strips (the attendees will bring their own Apple Jack, I guess). The total cost of room and board for double occupancy should not exceed $100 per day for a weekend program lasting about three days and three nights. It should be a place with few distractions except the natural surroundings. Did I ask too much? Thanks for your replies.


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