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March 25, 2009

Stay Away from the City

Dear Cityites:

Dorothy first reported about the many tax hikes, “fee enhancements,” and other new and increased charges in the mayor’s FY2010 budget in themail on Sunday. Since then, a lot of press attention has been paid to them, and the city council’s hearing on the budget on Monday centered around them. Two aspects of the plans are being promoted with the rationale that they will mostly hurt suburbanites from Maryland and Virginia who work or shop in DC: increasing the use of red light and speed cameras to raise funds, and increasing parking meter fees throughout the city and expanding meter fees to Saturdays. DC residents won’t complain about these measures because they don’t like suburbanites, the reasoning goes, and suburbanites will pay the fines and fees because the city is indispensable to them, and they’ll have to come to DC. Who do the administration think they are fooling? First, city residents know that they’ll be hit by the fines and fees just as much as commuters and suburban visitors. Second, promoting open hostility among the areas in the region is a nonstarter; is Kwame Brown, vice-chair of the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments, going to go to the next meeting of the organization and brag about how the city is going to stick it to the residents of the surrounding jurisdictions? We’re all in this together. Third, DC isn’t indispensable to suburbanites unless their jobs are here; there’s no reason that they have to come downtown to shop or go to restaurants, and, as Kami Corbett points out in her message below, if the city makes it too expensive, inconvenient, or unwelcome to travel downtown people from the suburbs can and will just stay home. Chicago has recently found out that drivers don’t have to passively accept a hike in parking meter rates; they can rebel:, After all, parking is largely free in the ’burbs. If the city tells people in enough ways that it doesn’t want their business — no more tax-free shopping holidays, predatory speed traps and red light ticketing, hard-to-find parking with expensive parking fees — eventually they’ll get the message and not give the city their business.

Harry Jaffe writes in The Examiner today, in the process of praising Capital City Public Charter School, that, “The public school system in the nation’s capital is heading toward extinction.” This follows the audited report of DC Public Schools’ latest enrollment figures, reported on March 17 by Bill Turque on the Post’s web site: “Enrollment for the 2008-09 academic year stands at 45,190, down 8.5 percent from last year’s 49,422. That figure has spiraled steadily downward, to 80,000 in 1980 and to 67,000 in 2000” ( An anonymous commentator (not me, I assure you) to Jaffe’s article on the Examiner’s web site expands on the subject ( “This is what she [Chancellor Rhee] was hired to do. Go around the country bashing teachers, get the national attention, demonstrate how little she knows of teaching and learning, fire, hire, fire principals, get rid of veteran teachers, create a national fight with the union, fail to create an educational plan, pay children to behave and to attend school, allow violence to escalate and you wonder why parents move their children to charter schools. Her job has been easy. Anyone can tear down. It takes skill to build.” The continuing flight of students of DC’s public schools is the true measure of Rhee’s success or failure. If making DC public schools good enough to attract more students and to build the public school system was Rhee’s mission from Mayor Fenty, then she is failing spectacularly. If, on the other hand, her mission was to drive students away from public schools in order to dismantle the system as much and as quickly as possible, she has been a great success. I recommend reading Erich Martel’s message below, and following the link to the whole submission if you’re reading the E-mail version of themail, if you want an inside perspective on what it’s like to teach in this system, with the lack of support that the Rhee administration gives to teachers.

Gary Imhoff


DC Council Pay Raises in the Budget?
Dave Mallof,

The Washington Post reported on March 24 on Mayor Fenty’s FY2010 budget. It quoted the Mayor saying in testimony to the DC council, “Yes, that’s our proposal — no pay raises,” in responding to a question from Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray. The mayor added “We just can’t afford increases,”

If the council supports this approach, they certainly should include themselves in the equation. The council raised its salary for their part- time jobs from $92,500.00 in 2006 to $115,000.00 in 2007. (I say part time because some councilmembers make a killing on the side. Mr. Evans, for example, pulls down an added $240,000.00 at least every year from his outside “Of Counsel” legal activities. That’s $20,000.00 every single month, or $1,000.00 per business day of the year on average, doing what good works outside of DC Government and for whom, only God knows. That totals almost a million dollars over the last four years, on top of his council pay of $370,000.00 during the same period. But I digress.)

The DC council also voted in December 2006 to add an annual automatic cost of living adjustment (COLA) for themselves forever thereafter. Most of us would like that kind of guaranteed pay boost. As a result, their pay rose again another 4.5 percent to $120,175.00 in 2008, where it remains today. The Council Secretary’s office verified today that the overdue January 2009 pay boost is still being calculated, and I surmise it will be paid retroactively to the sitting thirteen members very soon. Isn’t the better course of valor here for the DC council not to take another COLA increase yet again in 2009? If the 2009 increase due last January somehow is paid, why not ask the council to refund it in the spirit of true civic financial and fiscal leadership during our economic tsunami?

Mr. Gray said in the Post, “This is one of the most difficult budgets we’ve had to face in recent history.” Better yet, not accepting a COLA boost in 2009 and formally rescinding the automatic COLA provision now written into DC law is perhaps the best leadership approach of all until our mutual rainy day is over and the storm clouds have passed.


Tenley-Friendship Neighborhood Library
David P. Frankel, Friendship Heights,

We learned today from Jeffrey Bonvechio of the DC Public Library that DCPL is planning to make changes to the foundation of the new Tenley-Friendship Neighborhood Library to accommodate some unspecified future project that could be built on top of (or next to?) our new library. Mr. Bonvechio writes that this change will delay the opening of this long-shuttered library by four months and the additional foundation costs will come from the budget of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.

In addition, DCPL is not currently planning to place windows on the second floor west side of the library (facing Janney Elementary School’s soccer field) because of the prospect of a future building abutting the library. Future library patrons will not have this pleasant view and future school children and Janney staff will look east towards a brick wall. Future generations will ask: “What were they thinking?”

So, while the community is still hopeful its library will be constructed without further delays, we can see that the face-saving folly of Councilmember Cheh and Deputy Mayor Albert will cause the expenditure of additional taxpayer funds to beef up the library’s foundation and result in additional delay. What we don’t know yet is whether DCPL will have to place columns inside the library to support the weight of a building on top of the library. If built, such columns would take away precious square footage and make some of the library’s space less functional. At a time when Mayor Fenty is seeking to save money for severe projected budget shortfalls, this is money that can be spent better elsewhere.


Passing of Corita Ambroise Bobb
Dana Bryson,

It is with deep sadness that we let you know about the passing of Corita Ambriose Bobb, loving mother of Robert C. Bobb. The funeral will be held at 11:00 a.m. this Friday, March 27. Condolences and well wishes can be sent to the funeral home at Otis Mortuary, 501 Willow Street, Franklin, LA. 70538, 337-828-4070. The service will be held at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church, 1325 Big Four Corners Road, Franklin, LA. 70538 at 11:00 a.m., Friday, March 27.


Wanna Save Some Money?
Ed T. Barron,

While out here in Seattle this week, I had the opportunity to see how they pick up the trash and recyclables. Here in Bellevue, a Seattle suburb, they use exactly the same blue recyclable cans and the same large trash cans for non-recyclables. The trash truck has an arm mounted on the right side of the vehicle that reaches out and grabs the lifting bar on the front of the can and hoists it up and tilts it to empty it into the truck. One truck comes one day and picks up the recyclables and later another truck comes along and picks up the non-recyclable cans. The only person involved is the driver, compared to the three-man operation per truck we have in DC. Here is a potential cost saver as the waste trucks are replaced. No salaries, no bennies, no pensions for two people per truck.


Much Ado About Something
Richard Urban,

[Re: Wayne Turner, “Much Ado About Nothing,” themail, March 22] The HPV vaccine issue is a very serious one. Mr. Catania and Ms. Cheh insist on spending taxpayer money to deal with a supposed crisis that subjects children to a vaccine that has never been tested on anyone under age fifteen. About eight women each year in the District die from cervical cancer. While important, this hardly constitutes an emergency. Furthermore, why is the preferred prevention method for eleven-year-old girls to inject them with a vaccine that may well have more harmful than helpful effects? Should not young children be encouraged to remain sexually abstinent? Does not the Merck company have much self-interest in this supposed emergency intervention through gaining millions of dollars of revenue at taxpayer, and quite possibly, human, expense? This is a most serious issue, and if one child dies or has any serious adverse reaction due to this vaccine, councilmembers, and especially Mr. Catania and Ms. Cheh, should be held accountable. Furthermore, the bill creating this vaccination program was rushed through the council with very little public input. The council should repeal this bill. It sets a dangerous precedent for requiring vaccines for diseases that are not communicable in public settings, i.e., through normal social contact in a school setting. Communicability in a public setting is the correct, and normal reason for requiring vaccinations.


New Meaning for March Madness
Paul D. Craney,

In themail’s last issue [March 22], Dave Donaldson from the DC Democratic State Party gives a whole new meaning to March Madness when he tries to make the argument that somehow corruption in DC city hall is the fault of Republicans.

The bottom line is this: Councilmember Mary Cheh has oversight of two Committees that made news (ballots printed in error and FBI raids) all for the wrong reasons. If the councilmember doesn’t want the responsibility for the bad along with the good that comes with the position, she can resign.


Permit Purgatory
Jack McKay,

I mentioned (themail, March 11) that the elm tree removal that caused me a Kafkaesque journey through the District government was a city tree, not my own. That was only incidental to the issue of the nightmare imposed on me as I sought a few “emergency no parking” placards, but this seems to have raised some questions in themail about my responsibility for that tree on “public space.”

The tree is on a “public parking”, i.e., “that area of public space devoted to open space, greenery, parks, or parking that lies between the property line, which may or may not coincide with the building restriction line, and the edge of the actual or planned sidewalk that is nearer to the property line.” Such land “shall be under the immediate care and keeping of the owners or occupants of the premises abutting on the public parking” (DC Municipal Regulations, §24-102). We’re okay with that, and we’ve willingly provided maintenance of this inaccessible bit of land for our entire thirty-five years here, including the construction of a retaining wall to stabilize a steep slope, and a fence to halt erosion and resolve a safety problem.

The fact remains, this land is not my property, it’s not within my fence line, it’s not part of my yard. It’s land to which I have no direct access, having to squeeze through a gap fences along an alley to reach it. These trees are of no benefit whatsoever to me. Nonetheless, I’ve now paid over $4000 for the removal of diseased elms on that land. I don’t object to that, but I do object to the obstacles imposed by the District as I attempted to do what the Urban Forestry Administration ordered me to do. This was not for my benefit, but for the public good, to halt the spread of Dutch elm disease to healthy trees in the neighborhood. You would think the District would offer some cooperation, even assistance, not endless bureaucratic resistance, to this undertaking.


Double-Dipping Taxes
Kami Corbett,

[Re: Dorothy Brizill, “Cutting Jobs, Raising Taxes,” themail, March 21] Aren’t most of these things supposed to be covered by taxes? We pay for street maintenance, etc., through taxes. Why do I have to pay a separate fee for streetlights? That seems like it will turn into a slippery slope. It also feels like they are double dipping in my pocket.

Increase meter fees on Saturday? Fenty says one thing and does another. On one hand, he says he wants more people to shop in the District, but then he increases parking fees. Who would want to shop here, when there is free parking at the malls. Geesh. I live in the District and don’t even shop here.


Brookland Heartbeat March/April Issue Now Available
Abigail Padou,

The March/April issue of Brookland Heartbeat is now available. Articles and features in this issue include “ANC 5A Votes to Buy Themselves Top-of-the-Line Cell Phones,” “New Leaders Elected to Brookland Civic Association,” “Greater Brookland Business Directory — Pull Out and Save!,” “12th Street Pulses with Life from New and Old Businesses,” “Spring Events: Monastery Plant Sale and Great Brookland Yard Sale.” To receive a copy electronically, send your E-mail address to Brookland Heartbeat is also on the web at Brookland Heartbeat is mailed to more than 9,500 homes in the greater Brookland area. Brookland Heartbeat is a nonprofit, all-volunteer community newspaper.


DCPS Policies That Hinder Improved High School Achievement
Erich Martel, ehmartel at starpower dot net

[Testimony to the DC Council Committee of the Whole, March 11] As a longtime DC Public Schools high school social studies teacher and as a member of the Executive Board of the Washington Teachers Union, I regularly hear from teachers around the city about conditions and practices in their schools. In this testimony, I will describe several DCPS policies and practices that undermine academic and behavior standards and depress student achievement, the chancellor’s core performance goal. These policies, or default practices, create a false impression of academic improvement. They are part of a policy of publicly stigmatizing teachers as ineffective and below standard, providing them with inadequate support, and then simultaneously instituting social promotion schemes that deceive students and parents into thinking their short-cut diplomas will open doors of opportunity.

The current continuing DCPS-WTU contract’s “Full and Equal Partnership” language provides for collaborative committees through which the chancellor and staff could be working with Washington Teachers Union leaders and members to analyze problems, develop solutions, and cooperate in their implementation. The chancellor’s failure to utilize these structures represents lost opportunities for improving our schools. I hope that this hearing will lead to greater willingness on her part to work with the WTU. In his questioning of the chancellor, Council Member Michael Brown asked whether the teachers whose input she has solicited were union members (she answered, “Yes”). The more important question is whether she solicited teacher input through the WTU and, to my knowledge, she hasn’t. That transparent effort to bypass the WTU generates distrust.

The policy of the current DCPS administration of repeatedly blaming teachers for deficient student academic achievement obscures official policies and practices that undermine academic standards, hinder learning while creating a false public image of improved achievement. These include: 1) no coherent policy for managing the disruptive and violent behavior of a small minority of students; 2) promoting high school credit-earning schemes that institutionalize social promotion and social graduation, such as Credit Recovery, Night School, and Summer School classes, whose intentionally dumbed-down standards are designed to increase graduation rates at the expense of mastering subject content and skills, i.e., the knowledge that the DC subject area standards mandate.

DCPS has no clear and coherent policy for training school administrators and providing them with the trained support staff to prevent, control, and contain the pervasive disruptive and the all-too-frequent violent student behavior that prevents teachers from teaching and denies the majority of our students the quiet learning environment needed for concentration, study and academic success. The present DCPS student behavior management policy ignores the level and extent of student disruptive behavior by defining it as a classroom management issue; in other words, a problem of ineffective teachers. Principals, who are legally responsible for ensuring student compliance with student behavior rules, are now termed “instructional leaders,” implying that their primary responsibility is to supervise instruction and that disruptive behavior is the result of poor teaching. In short, there appears to be no official DCPS requirements or standards for training principals in the management and containment of student disruptive behavior and violence.

The Woodson High School 9th Grade Academy (temporarily located at Ron Brown Middle School) provides an example of the failure of the chancellor to hold principals accountable for maintaining a safe learning environment for teachers and students. So far this school year, at least six of the thirteen classroom teachers have been physically assaulted by violent students, requiring three teachers to seek medical attention and some to be on medical leave. Instead of supporting teachers, the principal has created an intimidating atmosphere that threatens teachers who seek assistance from student disruption and violence with poor evaluations. It is further unfortunate that the chancellor has nor instructed the principal to remove restrictions from the 2008-09 Teachers’ Handbook that violate procedures in the DCPS-WTU contract for removing disruptive and violent students from the classroom.

The principal published the following rules: “Please understand that in a given school the average teacher has less than ten office referrals a year. A teacher that refers students to the office every day will risk placement on some type of improvement plan. . . . No students should be sent out of the classroom without the completion of the appropriate office referral.” The contract requires the referral to be sent “at the end of the work day,” so as to limit classroom interruptions at the time of the disruption. Disruptive students should be removed immediately without time-consuming documentation that deprives the class of learning time.

The new Chapter 25 rules are designed to give a greater legal foundation to this shift of responsibility from principals to teachers. DCPS has no viable policy for addressing student misbehavior. Instead of acknowledging the extent of this problem, DCPS officials ignore it and cover it up. Instead of providing adequate alternative settings for students by expanding the capacity of CHOICE, which is now at capacity and refusing to accept more students, they continue to use “soft expulsion” as the primary means — transferring students and their problem behavior to other schools. When students return from CHOICE, the Youth Service Center or as disciplinary transfers from other schools, there is no transition support plan in place to ensure compliant behavior. Students in need of consistency and structure return to schools where antisocial and anti-learning behavior is tolerated. (In January 2008, during a focus group conducted by the Quality School Review in one of our high schools, a social worker reported that “70 percent of the students who return from CHOICE want to go back,” because, once they adapt to the “structure and consistency” at CHOICE, they don’t want to return to their old habits and absence of structure. I reported this to the chancellor.)

Although electronic communication, screens, and music devices are prohibited by the DCMR, they are permitted into the buildings and are a constant disruptive factor. Geared to adolescent immediate gratification, they undermine the concentration and deep thought that learning, study, and mastery require. Cell phones enable cheating, gang activity, rapid escalation of fights and inattention in class. They create a burden for teachers.

Councilmembers, please ask the chancellor and her designees to describe her plans for establishing and maintaining learning-centered student behavior in our schools. On an average school day, 40 to 50 percent of the students enrolled in some of our high schools don’t show up for one or more classes. DCPS and the mayor have no coherent plan for addressing this problem. According to a DCPS staffer who attended master schedule training, in schools with high absentee rates, they were told to set class size caps much higher than contractual limits with the expectation that many students would not show up on any given day! Were councilmembers informed of this practice?



Department of Parks and Recreation Events, March 26-28
John Stokes,

Thursday, March 26, 1:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m., Rosedale Recreation Center, 17th and Gales Streets, NE. Easter egg hunt for ages six to fifteen. Children will enjoy a fun-filled afternoon to celebrate Easter and hunt for treats. For more information, call Brian Williams, Site Manager, 724-5405.

Friday, March 27, 10:00 a.m.-2:00 a.m., Frederick Douglass Home, 320 A Street, NE. Seniors aged 55 and up will take a trip to the Frederick Douglass Home and have lunch at the International House of Pancakes. For more information, call Ben Butler at 645-9200.

Friday, March 27, 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m., Bald Eagle Recreation Center, 100 Joliet Street, SW. Spring beautification day for ages twelve and under. Youth will spend the day cleaning and beautifying the recreation center and its grounds by planting flowers, picking up trash, and cleaning the building. For more information, call Lorraine Westfield, 645-3960.

Friday, March 27, 2:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m., Volta Park Recreation Center, 1555 34th Street NW. Kite day for ages five to twelve. The participants will enjoy the excitement of assembling and flying their kites. Light refreshments will be served. For more information, call Shirley Debrow, 282-0379.

Friday, March 27, 4:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m., Palisades Community Center, 5200 Sherrier Place, NW. Kite flying contest for ages five to twelve. Children will fly the kites that they made and receive prizes. For more information, call Katrena Edwards, 282-2186.

Friday, March 27, 6:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m., Barry Farm Recreation Center, 100 Joliet Street, SW. Spring Magic. Groups throughout the ward from various centers will participate in a fashion, dancing, and singing showcase. Each group will perform to music provided by a DJ. Ages five to twenty. For more information, call Swandea Johnson, 645-3896.

Friday, March 27, 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Parkview Recreation Center, 693 Otis Place, NW. Pizza Hut Spade for ages sixteen and up. The tournament consists of four players who are team up as a pair. High cards win spade are the trump; there are no jokers or bids blind; first hand bids itself, two bumps games over. The team that reaches 500, wins the game. The winners will receive a large pizza, second place a medium one. For more information, call Shirley Ricks, 576-5750.

Saturday, March 28, 11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m., Watts Branch Recreation Center, 6201 Banks Street, NE. Watts beautification day: the Watts Branch community will come together for a day of service that will include planting flowers and cleaning trash and other debris from the center grounds. For more information call Libby Morris at 727-5432.

Saturday, March 28, 12:00 p.m.-2:00 p.m., Rosedale Recreation Center, 17th and Gales Street, NE. Spring cleanup. Youths and community members of all ages will participate in a neighborhood cleanup. The recreation center will be cleaned inside and outside. For more information, call Brian Williams, Site Manager, 724-5405.

Saturday, March 28, 2:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m., North Michigan Park Community Center, 1333 Emerson Street, NE. Sports banquet for ages 7-13. Youth who participated in the sports activities at North Michigan Park will be recognized and awarded with a token of appreciation. For more information, call Joseph Clark, Site Manager, 724-4876.


Spring Book Sale at Cleveland Park Library, March 28-29
Jill Bogard,

The Friends of the Cleveland Park Library will hold their big spring book sale this Saturday and Sunday, March 28 and 29, from 12:00 noon to 4:00 p.m. both days, at the Cleveland Park Library, 3310 Connecticut Avenue at Macomb Street, NW (take the Red Line to Cleveland Park, and walk south in the direction of the zoo one long block to Macomb). We will have three rooms filled with thousands of books in all subjects — and all at bargain prices. Old books or new, popular or arcane, we have them.

We ask that no book donations be brought in this week; we will be busy setting up for the sale. As a reminder, we have books for sale on the honor system every day. The tall bookcase near the check-out desk contains hardcover fiction and nonfiction, and a shelf of children’s books. The shorter bookcases to the right of the exit have paperback fiction and nonfiction. We restock constantly, so keep checking for that elusive title you’ve always wanted. Questions? Contact Nathalie Black at 362-3599.


Change DC Law to Save Public Property, March 30
Parisa Nourisa,

Attend a community forum on changing DC law to save public property on Monday, March 30, 6:30-8:30 p.m., at Empower DC, 1419 V Street, NW, U Street/Cardozo Metro. Light refreshments served; potluck items welcomed. RSVP to 234-9119 or Find out what current DC law says about public property disposition (sale, giveaway); what the People’s Property Campaign proposes for new DC law; what the People’s Property Campaign legislation, Bill 18-0076, recently introduced by Councilmember Thomas, says; how this bill will address community needs and support community economic development — including small businesses, community based organizations and community gardens; how this bill will save taxpayer money and resources; and how you can get involved in shaping this bill and getting it passed by DC council. For more information, call the Empower DC/People’s Property Campaign, 234-9119.


Fenwick Tributary Cleanup, April 4
Clif Grandy,

Join us on Potomac River Watershed Cleanup Day as we clean the Fenwick Tributary (to Rock Creek) and its surrounding parkland, 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m., Saturday, April 4 (rain or shine). The Fenwick Tributary cleanup effort starts at the 8100 block of East Beach Drive, NW, near the Kalmia Road Bridge and North Portal Drive. For further information, contact me at or the Alice Ferguson Foundation at 301-292-5665;

The Fenwick Tributary consists of several underground and daylight streams that drain 1200 acres in DC, Silver Spring, and Chevy Chase. The condition of the Fenwick impacts Rock Creek and consequently the Potomac and Chesapeake.


Volunteering in the Community, April 18
Paul Craney,

The DC Republican Committee and the DC Young Republicans will visit the Sunrise on Connecticut Avenue Nursing Home to bring smiles on the faces of the tenants on Saturday, April 18, from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. We welcome anyone, regardless of your political affiliation. This is not a political event, rather a way for us to give back to our community. If you would like to join us, please contact us at 289-8005 or E-mail us at:


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