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May 22, 2013

Keeping It Short

Dear Short-Winded Correspondents:

In the last issue of themail, I published a message from Virginia Spatz criticizing Empowerment DC for publishing a flyer depicting Mayor Grayís and Chancellor Hendersonís images on pinatas. Because the message was too long to be published in themail, I omitted the first few paragraphs, which in my opinion were background, preliminary materials leading up to the real points of her disagreement with Empowerment DC. Ms. Spatz disagrees, so I am publishing those first few paragraphs of her message below.

That, however, raises the issue of one of the few rules about writing for themail. The first rule to make it local, about life in our city and not about national or international issues. The second is to keep it short. Iíve become more lenient about keeping messages short than I was in the earlier years of themail. I will still sometimes chop off the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth paragraphs of a message, particularly if it is repetitious. But I can also divide a long message for publishing in two issues of themail, or I can simply publish the first two or three paragraphs of a message in the E-mailed version of themail, and publish the rest in the online archived version, as Iíve done with Candi Petersonís message in this issue. If you canít edit your message down to the right length for themail, and if itís important to you how itís treated, let me know. Thanks.

Gary Imhoff


2014 Elections
Dorothy Brizill,

The elections next year, 2014, will be critical for the District government. Local municipal elections will be held for mayor, council chairman, two at-large councilmembers, councilmembers for wards 1, 3, 5, and 6, and for the first time attorney general. Because of recent changes in federal law (the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act), the Districtís primary election is scheduled to take place, for the first time, in April rather than in September. The 2014 elections will occur against the backdrop of ongoing federal investigations by the US Attorneyís Office into councilmembers and into the conduct and financing of election campaigns (e.g., Vincent Grayís 2010 "shadow" campaign, bundling, the use of straw donors, cash contributions, and money orders).

In preparation for the 2014 election, the councilís Committee on Government Operations will hold a public hearing on May 29 at 11:00 a.m. on two important bills, the Board of Elections Petition Circulation Requirements Amendment Act of 2010 (B20-245) and the District of Columbia Primary Date Alteration Amendment Act of 2013 (B20-265). To quote from the meeting notice, the stated purpose of B20-245 "is to abolish the voter registration and residency requirements for circulators of petitions for the purposes of placing initiative and referendum measures on the ballot, nominating candidates for elected offices, and recalling elected officials, and to establish in their place a requirement that circulators of petitions for these purposes be at least either residents of the relevant jurisdictions or registered as petition circulators with the Board of Elections." The bill allows candidates to use paid crews of out-of-state petition circulators, but puts in place few and inadequate safeguards against petition fraud. The stated purpose of B20-265 is to alter the date of the primary election from the second Tuesday in April to the second Tuesday in June. This motives behind this bill are to shorten the long time period between the primary and general elections and to move the major campaign season from the cold winter months to the more seasonal spring and summer months.


Gray to Bloomerg: Sell Central Park
Kirby Vining, Stronghold,

DCís Mayor Gray tries to persuade NYCís Mayor Bloomberg to sell Central Park for development: a sardonic drama in one pathetic act of desperation. All names are real, but the action is fiction with a frightening resemblance to reality.

"Bloomberg here."
"Mike, itís Vince Gray. How are you? Hey, buddy, itís election year, and my main source of campaign funds just dried up Ė you know the story. But I got this great idea: sell parks! Whaddya think? All that green just wasted on young lovers and children playing in the grass, not paying a dime in taxes or rent. A waste, I tell you! Low-hanging fruit just waiting to be harvested. Whaddya think, Mike?"
(Aside, to an assistant: "They got some Tammany Hall thing down there, or is this guy on dope?"). (Gravely) . . . "Uh, youíre right, Vince, one has to keep an open mind about whatever is necessary for the people and city we govern."
"Mike, I got this great place here, McMillan Park, designed by the Olmsted firm that designed our National Mall and the Capitol grounds, that seems to have fallen into the wrong hands ó mine . . . and I called because I realized youíve got parks by the same group of guys ó Central Park, Prospect Park, Morningside Park . . . theyíre just apples waiting to fall off the tree and feed a campaign ó yours! With a finderís fee to your good friend who suggested it, of course! Whaddya think, Mike?"
(Aside to the assistant: "Change my number . . . this guy is an extraterrestrial.") "Vince, those parks have been city treasures for about a century, scene of some of the most memorable events in the lives of the people of our cities. But youíre right, thereís no tax revenue from them as things are now, but theyíre important for ó "
"Mike, Iím about to auction off McMillan Park to the highest bidder, whom Iíve already hand picked, and Iíll get back to you with more ideas like this when thatís done." (Both hang up).


Under the Big Top in DC
Karl Jeremy,

Each year the circus heralds the coming of spring in DC, and this year is no exception. WAMU is currently in center ring at the DC Real Estate Circus where back room wheeling and dealing set the backdrop for the main event. Enter some of the lead actors, elected DC councilmembers, who are riding high on the their campaign contributions.

Another headliner, yet to enter the main ring, is Harriet Tregoning, the darling of all developers. She not only heads the cityís planning office but also sits on the National Capital Planning Commission where she is able to influence decision making and ensure the cityís interests arenít short circuited by this federal agency. Sheís just perfected the first stage of a scheme to raise building heights in DC and it seems NCPC is standing by to assist in this high wire act.

A close look at the latest appointees to the DC Zoning Commission would reveal a close personal relationship with Ms. Tregoning. Yep, sheís got her act together. Sheís got planning, zoning, developers, NCPC, Zoning Commissioners and councilmembers holding her a safety net for her success. Tickets arenít required for public admission to the DC Big Top. Just watch and know that the same acts will be back next spring, because the fix is in.


Grantmaking Mess
Jonetta Rose Barras,

The DC council gave preliminary approval Wednesday to Mayor Vincent C. Grayís fiscal year 2014, twelve billion dollar budget and financial plan. Despite the administrationís pleas for them to show restraint, legislators added more than six million dollars in new fees and fines to finance their additional spending. One area where there appears to be agreement between the two branches is the need to provide more agencies grantmaking authority. Thatís not necessarily a good thing. Read more at


David P. Frankel,

Iíd be interested to know whether the streetcars the District took possession of three years ago came with a warranty and, if so, when that warranty began to run. If the warranty period began with delivery (and not placement into service), weíve lost a substantial period of coverage.


Uncivil Obedience: Failure to Empower DC
Virginia Spatz,

The lawsuit seeking to halt closures of DC Public Schools hit a serious snag last week. Sadly, the organization behind the suit went on to demonstrate its unsuitability to lead a community effort, especially one involving children. On May 15, as most readers know by now, US District Court Judge James E. Boasberg refused to grant a preliminary injunction in the case of Shannon Marie Smith, et al. vs. Kaya Henderson, Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools, et al. The lawsuit seeks to stop closures of thirteen DCPS schools at the end of this academic year; the injunction would have stopped DCPS from moving forward with those plans in the 2014 budget, which came up for a Council vote on May 22.

Attorney. Johnny Barnes, hired by Empower DC to conduct the lawsuit, pointed out that the ruling was on the injunction, "not on the merits of the case. The government has not even filed their response yet." Daniel Del Pielago, Empower DC organizer, said prior to the ruling that his organization expected a "long, hard fight." Del Pielago told The Washington Informer: "We have to be organized and strong on a national level to be contenders in this fight ó define who and what we are." Empower DCís monthly membership meeting, on Saturday, May 18, was heralded as an opportunity to "Take a swing at the people hurting our communities ó the Gray/Hendeson Pinata" ó complete with a visual readying the faces of public officials for smashing. Is this how Empower DC wants to "define who and what [they] are" for a national movement?


Cardozo Teachers and Staff Get the Ax
Candi Peterson,

At the end of the school day on May 20, Cardozo Senior High School staff were mandated to attend an emergency meeting in the schools auditorium. An important morning and afternoon announcement was made by the schools principal, Dr. Tanya Roane, that required all staff, including the schoolsí custodians, to report to the meeting. It felt as though we were being summoned to the guillotine by the principalís urgent tone and the requirement that all staff report. Back on December 20, 2012, I wrote an article for The Washington Teacher blog titled "Whatís the Impact of DCPS School Closures on Teachers and School Staff?í At that time, I warned teachers and school staff about the DCPS School Consolidation Staffing Overview which was provided to teachers at selected schools due to the proposed school consolidations announced by Chancellor Kaya Henderson in December 2012. The three-page staffing overview outlined the following: "WTU members at consolidated schools will be subject to the excessing process as outlined in the WTU contract." When I walked into the school auditorium today at 3:30 p.m. and saw Mr. Dan Shea, DCPS Instructional Superintendent, I knew it was a foregone conclusion that our worst nightmare was about to be announced.

Mr. Shea announced that all staff would be reconstituted with the exception of the schools principal. Shea stated "staff will have to reapply for their jobs starting this Wednesday with Principal Roane and interviews will be held beginning this Wednesday (May 22) through Friday (May 23)." In my estimation, that would amount to about thirty staff interviews daily at fifteen-minute increments if the principal were to meet her goal of interviewing approximately ninety school staff members by weekís end. Shea was clear that the principal alone would conduct all of the staff interviews.

A letter disseminated by a central office staffer in attendance at the meeting had a list of DCPS Reconstitution Frequently Asked Questions. Among the first question was "What does Reconstitution mean?" As defined by DC Public Schools, "Reconstitution is a process by which a school district may address the needs of the school that fail to make adequate gains several years in a row. When schools consistently under perform over a period of time DCPS may choose to take drastic action to improve the schools." Those drastic actions may include reconstituting all or some of the staff, converting the school to a charter, bringing an outside organization to be a management partner, turning the school over to be controlled by the state or pursuing another major restructuring such as getting rid of the schools administrators.

In response to questions from teachers, Instructional Superintendent Shea reported that no other high school in DCPS is being reconstituted this year. Among some of the reasons given for reconstituting Cardozo, Shea said, "We looked at 125 schools and Cardozo has gone backwards. Although there has been some growth, it is not at the pace we want." A fiery Washington Teachersí Union (WTU) Building Representative, Deborah Pearman, reiterated that Cardozoís test scores are not as bad as some other DC Public High Schools like Woodson and Dunbar, etc.. Pearman said "Iíve looked at these scores and I know that other high schools are worse than ours." Shea noted that the district looked at other data including the number of seniors graduating on time within four years.

Pearman inquired why the school district gave notice to school staff so late in the year when other schools had been notified prior to April 1. Chief among Pearmanís concerns, the DCPS job fairs have been held and some schools have already hired their staff for the upcoming school year. Another concern Pearman addressed was the District imposed a penalty that teachers who are part of the Washington Teachers Union (WTU) could face if they now choose to retire or leave the school system. The April 1 deadline requires that members of the Washington Teachersí Union (WTU) must notify the school district by this deadline in a Declaration of Intent or face a $1,000 penalty. In response to a battery of questions and concerns, Shea said, "I apologize that I didnít come one month ago to tell the staff." Pearman, as a member of the Cardozo personnel committee, fired back, "I am insulted that I have spent countless hours interviewing people for my job." Staff were optimistic that excessing would not occur, since the local school budget revealed an increase in staff positions due to the consolidation of Cardozo Senior High School and Shaw Middle School at Garnett Patterson, scheduled to take place in August 2013.

When I approached some of my colleagues about their responses, one teacher colleague said, "Weíve done this before." There were many horror stories of teachers having survived being excessed as many as five times during their careers. The difference with the 2007-2012 Washington Teachers Union Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is that excessing under this agreement is likely to lead eventually to a teacherís termination, despite a Highly Effective or Effective IMPACT evaluation rating. According to the DCPS School Consolidation Staffing Overview: "WTU members have sixty days to interview for new placements. After that period, WTU members who are unable to find placements may be eligible for an extra year of employment to find a permanent position that is if they are Highly Effective or Effective. These options are only available to WTU members who are in their third year and beyond and whose most recent IMPACT raring is Effective or Highly Effective. All other WTU members who are unable to find positions will be separated from the system."

By the way, Option 2 in the WTU Collective Bargaining agreement (CBA) previously allowed permanent status teachers with a minimum of twenty or more years of creditable service to retire early. This no longer an available option due to a MOA (Memorandum of Agreement) between WTU President Nathan A. Saunders and DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson, signed in December 2012. The MOA changes the early retirement option and calls for Supplemental Unemployment benefits to be paid to eligible teachers over a five-year period. In closing the meeting, Pearman, in rare form, requested that Shea deliver the message to Chancellor Kaya Henderson that she (Henderson) needs to meet with Cardozo staff directly and not just send her messenger to deliver the bad news. Shea assured the crowd he would take the message back to Henderson. I agree with Pearman; itís time that Henderson face her troops.


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