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September 23, 2009

Whammy Stats

Dear Whammiers:

Four DC Public Schools items: Chris Lewis reports at City Desk ( on DC Voice’s report on its interviews with over a hundred DC middle and high school teachers ( “There’s lots of interesting stuff, but here’s the whammy stat: ‘The teachers were asked if they like how the school system is run and to provide reasons for their answers. Eighty percent of the teachers replied no to this question, 8 percent replied yes.’ The remaining 12 percent said they both like and dislike aspects of DCPS management. When the 80 percent were asked to explain their discontent, the most common response was ‘a lack of respect for and blaming of teachers.’ Other frequent complaints are ‘poor communication between the District and local schools’ and ‘a rigid governance structure’ that ‘does not pay attention to what is happening in the classroom, nor allow for questions to be asked.’” Eighty percent of teachers dislike how the system is run. For the teacher-haters who want to see Chancellor Rhee run over teachers with a bulldozer, that’s encouraging news, but for anyone who wants the DC public school system to work, it’s disastrous. Any system that alienates 80 percent of its front-line workers is not just failing; it is dying.

Dan Brown, a DC charter school teacher, has written a scathing account of the DCPS teacher firings at The Huffington Post, “Mass Teacher Layoffs in DC Amount to One Hell of a Power Play by Michelle Rhee,” The Washington Post’s editorial board cheers on Rhee’s war against teachers again today: “Critics of DC Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee say she is using the city’s budget problems as a way to get rid of teachers she doesn’t want. They’re probably right” ( But the Post pretends, with no evidence, that Rhee is firing bad teachers, when she is only firing the 80 percent of teachers who think she is doing a bad job running the schools. She can’t fire her way into a workforce that supports her; she can only bully her way into a workforce that dare not criticize her mismanagement.

Earlier this year the city council passed a budget that included some additional money for the DC State Board of Education. Mayor Fenty, who wants to cripple the Board of Education and make it powerless, vetoed the whole citywide budget over this item. Last week, it looked possible that the city council would actually stand up to the mayor and overrule his veto, but instead it caved completely and surrendered to the mayor. The Washington Post’s CityWire described ( the details of the agreement that the council is trying to portray as a “compromise,” and commenters on the CityWire site don’t buy it, as they shouldn’t. Commenter candycane1 writes: “Ok if I read this correctly, they [the Board of Education] get to hire three people, not of their choosing but from a list given to them by the Superintendent, whose boss is the Deputy Mayor of Education, whose boss is the mayor. So basically, the hirees comes from the mayor. What a compromise.” The Board of Education won’t even have the power to fire any of its new employees chosen by Rhee. So much for its independence.

And the Washington Times has an article whose title is self-explanatory: “Private Parts Made a Public Concern: DC High Schools Test for STDs as Well as College Aptitude,”

Also, two items not related to the schools: Mark Segraves wrote a touching obituary tribute to Voice of the Hill founder Mark Robey: Harry Jaffe’s column gets it right about the “new ethics code” passed by the city council yesterday: it’s nothing new, and it’s toothless. It’s the kind of code councilmembers can love: “It lacks one crucial component — consequences, as in penalties, as in pain. . . . There was not one mention of sanction or censure or expulsion, let alone impeachment” (

Gary Imhoff


Unanswered Questions
Dorothy Brizill,

On September 17, the DC Public Library issued a press release ( that noted because of an 11 percent, or $4.8 million, reduction in the Library’s FY 2010 budget there would be a dramatic change in hours and services at all library locations: “Neighborhood libraries will no longer be open on Sundays. Instead, Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, which is currently closed on Sundays from Memorial Day to Labor Day, will be open year-round on Sundays. In addition, this library, currently open from 9:30 a.m.-9:00 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays, will open from noon-9:00 p.m. on those days. All public libraries will be closed on all Monday holidays.” The press release also notes that, “Other services are affected by the Library’s budget reduction. The Library’s bookmobile, which travels to a small number of schools, will not be used next fiscal year.”

It was against that backdrop that Sam Ford of WJLA and I raised questions at today’s press conference for the groundbreaking of the new Tenleytown-Friendship Library on Wisconsin Avenue. According to Mayor Fenty and Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper, the new 22,000 square foot library will be completed in December 2010. However, prior to the reopening of the new library, DCPL will have completed the construction or renovation of six other branch libraries (Anacostia, Watha T. Daniels/Shaw, Benning, Francis Gregory, Washington Highlands, and Georgetown). Neither the mayor nor Cooper would answer a basic question — how would the new libraries be funded and staffed, given the budgetary constraints currently forcing service cutbacks on DCPL and the city.

Mayor Fenty seemed to be genuinely surprised by the question. He didn’t seem to know that library hours and services were being curtailed in FY2010 because of budgetary problems. His response to Sam Ford’s question was to call for Ginnie Cooper to come from across the open field, and then to indicate he had to leave the press conference immediately. After Cooper stated that there really wasn’t any funding problem, she tried to brush off additional questions by saying that her “working philosophy” on such matters was to “build for the long term, deal with the short term.” When I continued to press Cooper to answer the question, she said, “I don’t have time for this,” but then said she had to get out of the sun. When I told her I’d walk with her to a shaded area of the open field, she said that she needed to get back to her office and that she was leaving. And so, for me, today’s press conference ended with the sight of Cooper running toward the Tenleytown Metro, with a small cadre of DCPL employees scrambling behind her.


Clark Versus Phil for Council
Karl Jeremy,

Earlier this month, Loose Lips had the following excerpt: “Clark Ray is now officially running for a Democratic at-large DC Council seat, having kicked off his campaign Saturday morning outside Java Hut in Dupont Circle. . . . [Ray] pledged to support Fenty’s school reform efforts and fight for increased access to higher education. He also vowed to bolster community policing and work to bridge the divide between the city’s poorest and wealthiest residents. Testimonial from Ray supporter Judy Leon: ‘This is a dog whose life was changed by Mr. Ray,’ Leon said, explaining how the 4-year-old yellow Labrador was rescued from a puppy mill. ‘She’s now able to come out of her shell [at the new Dupont dog park] and play with other dogs.’ Ray’s first hire: campaign manager Adam Barr, formerly of DC for Obama.”

It would be useful if voters had some solid reasons to consider Clark Ray as a credible candidate for an at-large council position. Aspirations are great, but the efforts Mr. Ray sites as his priorities are already on the entire city’s radar screen or the result of someone else’s efforts. So, for purposes of the LL compilation, voters are left with the testimonial from Judy Leon — that Clark Ray changed the life of a Labrador Retriever. That is truly commendable. Labs are great dogs. But when you put the happy Lab story up against Phil Mendelson’s solid record of achievement and his outreach to communities across the city, Mr. Ray comes up short in terms of goals and accomplishments.


DC Education Compact Closes
Donna Power Stowe,

As of Wednesday September 30, the District of Columbia Education Compact will cease operations as an independent organization. The current economic climate has made it difficult for many nonprofits to meet their fiscal needs, and this is the case for DCEC. However, while the organization is closing down, we are exploring two strong options for continuing the civic engagement work of aligning the education -related work of the many public and private sector entities toward shared goals and outcomes, for measurable progress towards these goals and outcomes. This process may take two to three months, and in the interim I will continue to be in communication with the Hub Leaders and other key education stakeholders. Once we have settled the details of the next stage for DCEC, we will be in touch with that information.

As of September 30, Ariel Jacobs can be reached at, and Tia Evans can be reached at I can still be reached at through October 31 and at the phone numbers below. My personal E-mail is My personal cell number is 703-362-3039.

I thank you all for your support and involvement with DCEC over the past five years, and look forward to sharing with you new contact information for DCEC’s next stage of continuing the important work of organized, broad-based civic engagement around quality public education for all children in the District of Columbia.


Residential Permit Parking Reform (Continued)
Jack McKay,

Last April I described here (themail, April 20 and April 27) Mount Pleasant’s experimental approach to providing parking for schoolteachers and other people commuting to jobs in our neighborhood. What are these day workers to do when every block in the neighborhood becomes zoned for Residential Permit Parking (RPP), and there’s no commercial parking in the area? Our answer is to allow schoolteachers and other neighborhood employees to park, for a fee, in the curbside spaces left clear by residents taking their cars to their workplaces. At the end of the day, those neighborhood employees go home, freeing up the curbside space for residents coming home from their jobs. In Mount Pleasant, I estimate that two thousand cars leave the neighborhood every morning, and only one hundred commuter’s cars arrive, so there is ample curbside space.

The pilot program designed last fall by the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) charged commuters about $2.50 a day for parking on neighborhood streets, a fee selected to avoid undercutting public transit. Even with that low daily cost, the proceeds of the program would add up to a significant annual sum, which would be shared with the neighborhood, compensating residents for their giving up some daytime parking space. The number of passes was limited to assure plenty of daytime parking space for residents, and commuter parking was to be allowed only in parts of the neighborhood where observations had shown ample free space during the day. Given that many of these commuters come from nearby suburbs, it’s a de facto commuter tax. What’s not to like?

But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum, and today, six months after this program was to begin, there is no daytime parking pass program in Mount Pleasant. Worse, school has begun, and the schoolteachers who used to park on a few unzoned blocks, now RPP-zoned, have no place to park. They, and the employees of the nursing home in our neighborhood, are now collecting $30-a-day RPP tickets. (This has quieted early complaints about the $2.50 per day fee.)

What happened to make this program crash and burn? The problem seems to be that it threatened to be too popular. Schools all over the city were eager for such a program, allowing school staff to park on neighborhood streets instead of on school playgrounds. Evidently that spelled its doom. Frightened by the specter of dozens of schools clamoring for the Mount Pleasant day-pass program, the District dropped the idea. As of August we were told by DDOT that it is dead, with no explanation given, and no one accepting responsibility for its demise. It was, it seems, such a good idea that it had to be strangled at birth.


Three DC-Area Nominees for the MacArthur Awards
Phil Shapiro,

Three people from the DC area — Shrine Mitchell, Denise Lewis, and Jeffrey Elena have been nominated for the MacArthur Awards. The MacArthur Awards does not accept nominations, but that doesn’t stop anyone from describing who they would nominate, right? See

Coincidentally, all three of these individuals are involved with technology as a tool of education, empowerment, and community development. I wonder why that’s so?


Illegal Parking of Storage Unit
Paula Miller,

Annie, thank you so much for your story on the illegal storage container [themail, September 20]. This just serves to illustrate how truly and utterly unprepared this city is in terms of deterring or preventing a terrorist episode. How easy would it be for some terrorist-type to set up a storage container in just such a manner as this one was set up? The sheer magnitude of possibilities for how such a container could be used to carry out nefarious purposes and execute a terrorist attack are stunning. And with the way your concerns about that container were ignored by so-called city “officials,” the possibility of a successful terrorist attack is simply mind-boggling. The probability of success would be extremely high. So, for anyone in DC to claim that “we” (not sure who they mean) are prepared to respond to a terrorist attack, let alone, deter one, is just a complete joke. Your story is the perfect piece of evidence to support that DC is a laughingstock of so-called emergency preparedness, and in reality, is the poster-child of complacency and unpreparedness. With the lame and unconcerned attitudes you received, the entire city is a weak link in the chain. Wait . . . what chain? There is none.


Lower Speed Limit to 20 MPH
Lee Watkins IV,

Saving people’s lives is more important than getting motorists to their destination a minute faster (where they will then waste more than fifteen minutes looking for free parking). Fact is, if you hit pedestrians at 20 mph they usually survive with only minor injuries. If you hit them at 25 mph, their odds of dying are very high. At 30 mph, death is nearly guaranteed. Pedestrian deaths outnumber motorist deaths both in the city and nationwide. You also have the cyclists to watch out for (share the road). Speeding in the city has a minimal time return, measured in seconds, at best a minute or two. In exchange for that we lose many lives that could have been saved. Drivers speed out of selfishness and disregard for the lives of others. There is a wide consensus to ticket drivers who endanger the public. Further, that money can be put to good use to build alternatives to driving cars in the city like trams, bike tracks, expanded sidewalks, etc.

If you don’t want to get a speeding ticket or kill someone, I have a solution for you. Slow the hell down! There are people out there who depend on you to act responsibly. Set a good example.


Law Enforcement and Moral Turpitude
Philip Wirtz,

The recent proposal in themail that law enforcement should be lax unless there is a moral turpitude (definition: “a vile or shameful act”) component to the violation surprises me. Moral turpitude is just one of many reasons for a law; public safety is another. A person who exceeds the speed limit is not committing a “vile or shameful” act: he/she is committing an act that places public safety at risk. Under the moral turpitude argument, a law requiring drivers to pull over and yield to an emergency vehicle with its lights flashing and alarm sounding should be loosely enforced, since there is no moral turpitude violation associated with that law. Opposition to law enforcement seems to reflect endorsement of a lawless society, where each individual becomes entitled to determine which laws should be followed and which laws should not. If the view is that circumstances have now changed so that a speed limit needs to be modified, then work to change the limit. But a societal model under which law enforcement is lax unless there is some sort of moral turpitude involved seems to me to be both unworkable and undesirable.


Speed Traps: Look Around Before Proceeding
Joel Lawson,

In the September 21 issue of themail, Gary Imhoff’s peevishness is finally turned away from those of us seeking marriage equality and towards a true moral challenge: speed traps. Beginning his message with the salutation “Dear Moralists,” Gary offers a glimpse into his mindset: “there are two major types of crimes,” he helpfully teaches, “some acts are bad . . . we want to catch and punish every person,” while other crimes aren’t so important: “other acts aren’t bad in themselves, even though they may be illegal.” Comforting speeders, Gary suggests there is “no moral failing involved” regarding speed limits on DC streets.

So, was that salutation supposed to be “Dear Moralists” or “Dear Fellow Moral Relativists”? Four hundred fifty-one words later, an important word is left unmentioned: “pedestrians.” In light of some horrific accidents recently, let’s add “bicyclists.” Our civics professor has forgotten that the lives of residents might be worth inclusion when holding forth on the morality of motoring. Speed traps reduce speeding and increase safety, according to research such as that conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Any driving instructor will tell you it’s dangerous to only consider your own view from behind the wheel. When it comes to opining about speeding, look around before proceeding, Gary.



Save Our Teachers, Our Students, and Our Schools, September 24
Candi Peterson,

According to inside sources, DCPS instructional superintendents met Saturday at a breakfast meeting and got their marching orders from Chancellor Rhee. They were advised to meet with DC principals on Monday to inform them that layoffs will start next week for teachers. Principals will be advised to lay off teachers as early as next week. Most of the layoffs will impact DC teachers and some school-based personnel. It is reported that even some principals and vice principals will also be let go.

Rhee promises to pay DCPS employees one month of their salary in lieu of a thirty-day notice required when implementing a reduction in force. RIF’d staff will all be let go prior to September 30. Rhee is anxious to get teachers and other DC staffers out as quickly as possible.

Rank and file educators will gather outside of the DCPS central office on Thursday, September 24, starting at 4:00 p.m. to protest teacher layoffs. We request that other laid off and terminated government employees, parents, students, city workers, residents, community activists, local leaders and the media join us in taking a stand for our teachers, students, and schools. We are baffled that Chancellor Rhee hired over nine hundred new teachers this summer, and that only one month into the school year announced that — due to a budget shortfall — she will make imminent teacher layoffs prior to the start of the fiscal year. Please join the rank and file this Thursday as we protest Rhee: The Teacher Terminator.


What Has Happened to Marriage?, September 24
Eleanor Holmes Norton,

Congressman Eleanor Holmes Norton hosts What Has Happened to Marriage in the Black Community?, with special guest speakers Audrey Chapman, relationship expert, and Dr. Shane Perrault, psychologist.

Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Room 140B, 801 Mt. Vernon Place, NW, L Street entrance. Convention Center/Mt. Vernon Metro station.


National Building Museum Events, October 1
Sara Kabakoff,

October 1, 6:30-8:00 p.m., Sustainable Communities: Plan Like Your Life Depends on It. Professor Greg Hise, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Barbara Campagna, National Trust for Historic Preservation, explore the decisions made by mankind on where and how to live, based on available materials, technology, and energy sources. $12 members; $12 students; $20 nonmembers. Prepaid registration required. Walk in registration based on availability. At the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square Metro station. Register for events at


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