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April 30, 2006

Saving Assets

Dear Savers:

On Friday, the Committee on Education, Libraries, and Recreation issued its budget analysis and markup on the mayor’s FY2007 budget. On page 104, it addressed the mayor’s proposal to lease out the Martin Luther King, Jr., central library and to build a new central library. The committee recommends “that the Committee of the Whole delete Title II-D from the FY2007 Budget Support Act, and consider the Mayor’s library financing and development proposal as stand-alone legislation. The Committee makes this recommendation because the central library proposal is both a major policy initiative and a very complex piece of legislation that merits more public discussion, debate, and understanding.

“The decision about whether the District government finances and builds a new central library, with a projected cost of $180 million, will shape the future of library services for decades to come. Title II-D spans 16 pages in a piece of budget legislation that, as introduced, contains seven titles and 20 other subtitles, many of which also deal with very complex and important policy questions. The due diligence that such a project requires will be served better through separate consideration of this important proposal. There are also additional pieces of analysis, such as a financial review by the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, that are not yet complete and should inform the Council’s decision-making about the proposal. If Title II-D is removed from the Budget Support Act, the Committee on Education, Libraries, and Recreation would work closely with the Committee on Economic Development and the Committee on Finance and Revenue to coordinate the review of the central library proposal and recommends a joint hearing of the three Committees.”

This is good news, and a welcome response to citizens’ weighing in on the issue, but nothing is settled yet. The Committee of the Whole still has to take an affirmative vote on May 9 to remove the proposal from the budget support act. If it does, the real fight will begin. The mayor, along with the Federal City Council and his appointees on the library board, will continue to push hard to dispose of the MLK building. Right now, the mayor is returning from London, where he went to inspect its libraries. He traveled with John Hill, chief executive officer of the Federal City Council and chair of the DC Public Library Board of Trustees; and developer Richard Levy, chairman of the library trustees Facilities Committee. The Committee on Education, Libraries, and Recreation recommends leaving $2.2 million dollars in the capital budget to continue planning for a new central library. The power is still on the side of the city’s getting rid of one of its greatest and most valuable assets, and the people will be able to save it only with concerted and continued effort.

Gary Imhoff,
Dorothy Brizill,


DC Archives
Pamela Thurber Duncan, Annapolis, MD,

[On the topic of the DC government’s making information more difficult to get] Yesterday [April 26] I made the naive mistake of attempting a walk-in visit to the DC Archives to inquire about records from public welfare in the 1930s. I know from personal experience, having worked there with Phil Ogilvie in 1993-4, that the records are in the collection. I was told that the records were “owned” by the Department of Human Services, and I would have to make a request of them. I was given an address and a general phone number. I asked which DHS staff member was responsible for this and the answer was — don’t know. I was not given any forms, information about the web site or anything at all.

I have since made an E-mail request for the information using the protocol on the Office of the Secretary’s web site, which I already knew about, and used the site to determine what other more recent material might be relevant for my project. But what if I had come from afar to do research to be sent off into bureaucratic never-never land? I don’t think this is public service. I know that the Archives has to have some procedures to handle the volume of requests it must get, but this encounter was far from satisfactory.

Incidentally, I am a former city employee from 1969 to 1975 and 1987 to 94; I attended high school in the District and own property there. I consider myself a Washingtonian, although I am resident in Annapolis due to marriage.


Making DC Public Schools the Envy of the World
Dominique N. A. West,

Washington, DC, the city of powerful politicians, influential businessmen, hard hitting lobbyists, and a number of intellectuals, has a very serious problem. DC’s problem lies in the public education system. Public schools are in shambles and it is a travesty. As a graduate of the DC public schools (School Without Walls, Jefferson Junior High, and Bunker Hill Elementary), I am completely appalled at the direction in which the DC schools have been going. Recently the US Department of Education labeled DC schools high risk for a variety of reasons. This shouldn’t be the case because the District of Columbia should have the top schools, no matter what. We’re tired of excuses and citizens want better.

DC should be setting the example for the rest of the country and in fact the entire world. Public school students shouldn’t worry about being unable to compete with private schools or even public schools in the suburbs. Nor should they have to worry about whether their education will prepare them well for college or the workforce. With DC residents paying the third highest in taxes in the country, there should be no excuse why students shouldn’t be afforded the best education. Every elected official for years has promised to make education the top priority. Unfortunately, ultimate results have yet to be accomplished.

I will admit that fixing DC schools will not be an overnight solution. However, we cannot continue to wait until election year for rhetoric and more of the same ineffective results from public officials. We can not wait for disinterested parents and citizens to get interested and involved. We have to do what we have to do now, with what we have and with whom we have. While I am not an authority on education, I have direct experience with DCPS. Even though I am a successful DCPS graduate that is in graduate school, I still feel that I could have gotten a better education in public schools. I feel that DCPS should offer new ideas such as putting classes on a semester schedule, e.g., English Grammar 101, English Literature 102; Algebra 101, Algebra 102; Reading 101, Reading 102. If a student is unable to excel in a subject, he/she may only need to retake a semester and not a whole year. Students transferring from one school to another might have an easier time this way. It might be easier to measure performance. And the same books should be required of the same classes, though there could be supplemental books as well.

Schools should offer different curricula, incorporate more technology in the classroom, create more of an international focus, and introduce each student to foreign language early in elementary school and allow them to continue it each year through high school or change to another language if they prefer. Offer languages such as Chinese, Arabic, and Japanese, in addition to the traditional French, German, and Spanish languages. It would be great to see an international business focus at the schools on the Spingarn campus at 26th and Benning Road, NE. Create a school-within-a-school program in Brown, Young, and Spingarn in addition to the regular school program. Require students to spend at least one of their high school spring or winter breaks abroad. Raise the money somehow so students don’t have to pay and all would be able to go without concerns about finances. If DC manages its money well and obtains federal and other grants, it could possibly make this happen.

There also needs to be a better system for allowing kids to go on field trips. Parents cannot always afford the trips and some equipment and accessories in school. Keep schools public by providing the costs of trips and equipment. Don’t expect families to have to contribute money to every field trip. There should be a budget that is allocated to get kids to and from field trips. And let’s get some money for these bands and choirs to travel. Our kids shouldn’t always have to beg to go on a trip when government and business leaders regularly go on business excursions abroad. Education should not be limited only to the classroom. With all of the influential organizations in DC there should be more partnerships with the school system and if necessary, with more of a tax write off to do so.

Let’s better enable our students to compete globally. With a degree in International Studies, I know that we are not just competing with the person on the other side of town or in another state, but with the world. International trade is thriving and many companies are becoming multinational. The world of competition is fierce. DC students have to be ready to compete on all fronts. We have to encourage all our young people to be productive citizens and stay off public assistance if possible and away from crime. The best way to do that is with a solid, reputable education that means something. Everybody benefits from a good school system. No more excuses for mediocrity and failure.


Candidate Fenty Steals Tax Plan from Candidate Rees
Jonathan R. Rees,

For almost a year now, I have advocated four things as it concerns lowering our tax levels in DC. They are: 1) increase the standard deduction and personal exemption rates; 2) lower our income taxes by 15 percent over ten years; 3) lower our property taxes 20 percent for all and 35 percent for seniors over ten years; and 4) reduce the cost of labor by reducing the size of DC government. Everybody knows this was my idea from the outset of all campaigns in DC.

Adrian Fenty is now more or less adopting my plan in his recent talks on taxes in the newspapers, radio, and elsewhere but fails to give me credit as what he is now advocating. He did not do that about a year ago but after he and his staff saw my tax platform, he decides out of the blue to adopt it but give it a different twist. In college, if we stole an idea in great part from another it would be called plagiarism.

Is this to say that candidate Fenty has no real ideas of his own; that he has to steal it from a candidate for city council?


This Is the Week to Speak Out on Libraries
Richard Huffine, Federation of Friends of the DC Public Library,

May 1 and 2, 2006, are the American Library Association’s Library Legislative Days. Every year hundreds of librarians, library trustees, and advocates gather right here in our community to educate themselves and their Congressional representatives on the issues facing libraries today. A small group of DC residents will be joining the activities. Despite our lack of Congressional representation, the DC contingent will be meeting with Representatives on the DC Appropriations Committee as well as our only real voice on the Hill, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.

While we will be well represented on the Hill this week, the case for public support for libraries needs to be made to our own DC council this week as well. The DC council will vote on an FY2007 Budget in the coming weeks that, while increasing library funding by 24 percent, does not provide critical improvements in security, planning, and capital project management that the library system will need in order to transform itself while remaining open to the public. The enhancements to facilities and collections budgets in FY2007 are also not guaranteed for future years, creating the potential for a substantial rollback of funding in FY2008. The DC council will also consider provisions in the Mayor’s Budget Support Act that will give the Mayor permission to lease the main library to an undisclosed bidder for 99 years and build a new central library two blocks north of the current building. The new central library would be on a triangular lot on the Northwest corner of the Old Convention Center property and could share much of its footprint with ground floor retail shops and additional floors above the library could be built for residential or office uses.

Whatever your personal opinion may be of the function of libraries in our communities, the DC council needs to hear from you on these proposals. The DC Public Library System suffers from many of the same struggles that the Public School System is facing today. The difference of course is that the problems of the Public Library System are more easily fixed in the short term. Rebuilding library branches and deciding where and how to invest in the central library are all issues that can be resolved and substantial progressed made in months, not years. So, contact your councilmember and whether you tell them to move quickly on the construction of a new central library or hold off to learn more about the deals involved, tell them that libraries matter. Fixing the problems with DC government will not happen until our representatives understand that we consider it their job to make our government work.


MLK Central Library Issue
Ron Leve, Dupont,

Following up a my note to themail last week [April 23], I’ve communicated with all the members of the city council about separating out the DC library issue from the overall budget to be dealt with on its own. So far the members who have committed to this are Evans, Ambrose, Patterson, and Schwartz. The response from Carol Schwartz to the Evans, Ambrose, and Patterson proposal is below. May I suggest that you also ask the other council members to take similar action.

Councilmember Schwartz wrote to Councilmembers Evans, Ambrose, and Patterson: "Thank you for providing me with a copy of your April 24, 2006, memo to Chairman Cropp, which recommends that Title II-D, Library Omnibus Financing and Development, be deleted from the Fiscal Year 2007 Budget Support Act of 2006. I agree wholeheartedly with this recommendation, and endorse your suggestion that Title II-D be submitted instead as stand-alone legislation. As you know, I agree that we need an updated central library, but I do not intend to support the construction of that library on the site of the old Convention Center. A new library can be accomplished at the current MLK Library site or at another site, such as the Carnegie Library building in Mt. Vernon Square. I would like the opportunity to express my specific views during a debate on stand-alone legislation. I also agree that any action on this proposal needs to be thoroughly vetted in a public forum with every opportunity for citizen participation."


Ross Elementary School
Gloria C. Smith, Principal, Ross ES,

Thank you, Ms. Duel, for such a supportive letter about Ross Elementary School [themail, April 26]. We really appreciate your generous observations about the staff and the relationship we have with our students and their families.

I can’t tell you how much it means to us to have your program as one of the much needed resources in our school. The staff and the students have benefited greatly from the program and the grants that you and Ms. Kuhn have received over the years on behalf of Ross students. You help us in so many ways, and for that we are grateful.



The Cultural Institute of Mexico Sponsors Marimba Concert, May 6
Barbara Ruesga-Pelayo,

Saturday, May 6, 6:00 p.m., concert by Na’rimbo (marimba group), from the State of Chiapas, Mexico, at the National Museum of the America Indian in the Welcome Plaza (rain location: Potomac Atrium).


Ross Elementary’s Buy-a-Book-for-Kids Fair, May 6-7
Deborah Hanrahan,

The third annual Ross Elementary School Buy-a-Book-for-Kids Fair will be held on Saturday, May 6, and Sunday, May 7, at the following times and locations: Saturday, May 6, at the Safeway, 17th and Corcoran Streets, NW, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday, May 7, at two locations: Farmer’s Market, Dupont Circle, 20th and Q Streets, NW, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.; Safeway, 17th and Corcoran Streets NW, 2 p.m.-6 p.m.

For this event, Ross teachers have provided lists of books that are needed for regular instructional periods as well as for the school’s tutoring and mentoring programs. For a requested donation of $25, individuals can select a book title from those lists and donate it to the school in their name and the name of their mother (to honor her on the upcoming Mother’s Day) or another loved one. A letter identifying the selected book will be sent to the honoree, and an inscribed bookplate reflecting the names of the donor and the person to whom it is dedicated will subsequently be placed in the selected book.

Ross, a 164-student public school located at 1730 R Street, NW, in Dupont Circle, has frequently been cited in the press as an outstanding small public school noted for high achievement by its students and for the dedication of Principal Gloria Smith and her teachers and staff. For more information, please contact Debby Hanrahan at 462-2054 or


Schrag at Washingtoniana, May 8
Matthew Gilmore,

On May 8, 6:30-8:00 p.m., Zachary Schrag, Assistant Professor of History, George Mason University, will present a book discussion of The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro. Schrag will dispel the myth of the Georgetown Metro Station, illuminate the role citizen and elite activism played in the development of Metro, and shed light on the politics of transportation planning in the national capital. At the Washingtoniana Division of DC Public Library, 901 G Street, NW. Books will be available for purchase and signing. Please RSVP to 727-1213 so we can make sure we have enough chairs/space).


Joanne Jacobs on Our School, May 11
Barry Garelick,

Joanne Jacobs of the blog is giving a reading of her book Our School on Thursday, May 11, at 5:30 p.m., at William E. Doar Jr. (WEDJ) Public Charter School for the Performing Arts, 705 Edgewood Street, NE. The school is in an old warehouse near the Rhode Island and Brookland-CUA Metro stops.



School Choices?
Paul Penniman,

I have a friend looking for a school for her bright, persevering ward, a boy entering eighth grade next year. He lives with a foster mother in Temple Hills, and this woman will drive him anywhere. Are any charters still accepting applications, or is there still room in the voucher program? He can qualify for DCPS entrance.


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