Community Palette

13 Little Chancellors

March 27, 2012

The D.C. Council once again is interfering in the education of our children by passing legislative mandates that usurp the authority and role of the Mayor and the Chancellor.

This kind of meddling has never been productive and won’t be now. What it does is set up a situation where the responsibility for education moves solely from the Mayor and the Chancellor back to being shared with 13 individuals who don’t all have expertise in education. While they may all be well meaning that isn’t enough. They aren’t educators.

The Council recently passed legislation calling for all high school students to take the SAT or ACT college entrance exams and to apply to college or another post-secondary institution in order to graduate. While this may sound like a great goal the question has to arise that with a current drop-out rate of close to 50% shouldn’t the first goal be to keep children in school? Shouldn’t we leave it to educators to make the determination on what mandates to require of students who are in high school and ready to move on to higher education? In addition to the required testing the bill the Council passed also stated that all 3 and 4 year olds be ready for kindergarten. What does that actually mean? In 1989 George H. W. Bush convened an Education Summit in Charlottesville, Virginia. He invited the nation’s Governors and business leaders and they came up with six goals. The first being; ‘All children will enter school ready to learn’. While not many of the six have been met that was one that clearly then and now still causes the most problems. The reason being that this has to do much more with families and outside influences than it does with schools and educators.

The Council has a short memory. What they agreed to only a few short years ago was that they have the right to vote to approve the Chancellor but beyond that they would stop micro-managing the schools. In abstaining from voting on the bill one member did remember that. It was reported that Councilmember Tommy Wells said, “I agree with the measure’s goals, but I don’t believe that the city council should be taking on the role of the school board. I think that it’s too possible to politicize school policy, and so in general I believe there should be a very bright line…”.

Councilmember Wells is right about this. There has to be a bright line and the Council appears to have crossed it in a way that will not benefit our students or the system. In addition the Charter School Board executive director, Scott Pearson, testified that the bill was ‘overreaching’ and did not have the support of the charter school community which today enrolls nearly 40% of D.C. public-school students. 

Hopefully the Council will step back and remember what they agreed to as we move toward raising the standard of public education in the District. Unless they do this could be the first step in what could become the road back to a dysfunctional school system with too many cooks in the kitchen.

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Let the Chips Fall Where They May

March 7, 2012

The raid on Jeffrey Thompson’s home and office and on Jeanne Clarke Harris’s office by federal investigators has created another political free-for-all in the media. Everyone is trying to figure out what happened and why and jumping to conclusions without the facts.

Jeffrey Thompson (Photo by: Jeffrey Thompson

As someone involved in political campaigns since the age of 12, I realize that anytime there is money floating around in campaigns there are always people looking to get some or to curry favors by giving some. In our efforts to clean up campaigns we need to be careful we don’t make things worse. Councilmember’s Wells and Cheh are proposing solutions that could make it harder to raise money which could be good but will that then mean only wealthy candidates can run?

D.C. moved into the big-time when Adrian Fenty raised over $3 million for his first campaign and then over $5 million for his losing reelection bid. It wasn’t that long ago when reporters in this town thought raising a million dollars was too much. In 2006 Fenty became furious when told he shouldn’t consider running unless he could raise $1.5 million because he didn’t think he could. Today that kind of money gets you out of the starting gate.

The District of Columbia has moved quickly from being a small town to being a big city with the complex issues that big cities have. But in many ways we are still a small town and our political scandals seem overwhelming. We have few politicians and comparatively few people with real money involved in the political system so that when one person gets caught doing something wrong, or there is the hint of something wrong, the mud splatters all over the place.

Growing up in New York I saw a lot more scandals than D.C. ever had but there were so many politicians that a few scandals here and there didn’t throw everyone for a loop. There are of course just plain dumb politicians, but that isn’t an appellation anyone could apply to Vincent Gray. He is often considered the smartest person in the Wilson building. I still believe that he had no intention of doing anything wrong when he was convinced to run for Mayor. Clearly there were people around him who may have thought differently and were motivated either by greed or by the knowledge that to run a successful campaign you needed big money quickly. Does lack of intent to do wrong exempt Gray from responsibility, NO! But I just suggest before we assign personal guilt we let the U.S. Attorney finish his investigation and let the chips fall where they may.

There is a running commentary in the press and among some activists about what Congress will think and how what our politicians do will impact their actions. I think we need to get away from that discussion. The worst that has happened to DC in my 32 years here is the Control Board. If we look at D.C. today we are a stronger, bigger and better city than before. We have survived Marion Barry and some of his cronies going to jail and Marion himself going to jail. Developers in this town won’t stop investing if there is more wrong-doing uncovered because despite our politicians this city is a great investment and it is growing. The scandals haven’t stopped anyone from moving here and they won’t. So I think we should focus on what is great and happening here instead of spending time wringing our hands.

I am all for cleaning up politics but how do you explain newspapers in town that chastise current politicians but don’t give any coverage to the ones running against them? We will survive Harry Thomas and anyone else found guilty of a crime because we are bigger than our politicians. We are a great city and its time to focus on that and sell that. The investigations will go on and when we see the results the chips will fall where they may.

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A Synonym for the D.C. Democratic State Committee: Dysfunctional

February 28, 2012

Many have asked what the purpose of the D.C. Democratic State Committee is. In a city that is so overwhelmingly Democratic it has very little to do and they prove time and time again that even with little to do they can’t do it well.

They no longer appear to have an annual Kennedys-King dinner which may be a blessing as at one a few years ago there were so many mistakes in the program that it was embarrassing for them to hand it out. A number of years ago they printed a poster to support Democratic candidates in the District and misspelled the name of our delegate to Congress. In 2008 they got into trouble for how they raised and accounted for the money to cover their expenses at the convention.

Often considered their prime reason for existence in D.C. is handling the quadrennial selection of delegates to the Democratic National Convention. The District of Columbia in 2012 will get 39 delegates and 2 alternates to the convention but most of those slots are filled by DNC party officials or DC elected officials. This year there are only 13 delegates and one alternate who will be determined by a vote at a caucus on March 3rd. But if you try to get information on the caucus as late as Tuesday morning by going to the State Committee website you would think that they are doing everything possible to hide the event from the public.

I was told that they recently developed a new website. But Google the D.C. Democratic State Committee and it takes you to their old site which is still functioning. If you wade through all the information on that site you finally come across the fact that the March 3rd Caucus will be held at the D.C. Convention Center. WRONG!

Then call someone and find their new site and on the home page you find a listing of the approved candidates for delegate but still no location for the Caucus. The candidates are listed by the two Congressional Districts which D.C. is split into for the purpose of selecting delegates. Funny since we don’t even have one voting member in Congress.

Be that as it may, Wards 1, 2, 6, and 8 make up District #1 and Wards 3, 4, 5 and 7 make up District #2. But on the home page you find the list of candidates but don’t see which Wards make up which District. If you read through every document on the site you will eventually find that the caucus is actually being held at University of the District of Columbia (UDC) from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. But they don’t tell you in which building, or give the courtesy of giving directions to UDC. They don’t mention that after 11:00 am you can just stop by and vote and don’t have to stay for the whole caucus. Or that there is actually an opportunity for those that celebrate their Sabbath on Saturday or who may be out of town to vote on Thursday at a different site after calling to make an appointment.

Just wait to hear the moaning after it is all over about how surprised they are that so few Democrats turned out to vote. The time has come to either remake the DC Democratic State Committee into a functioning organization if people still believe it has a purpose, or  have the Democratic National Committee just take it over.

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