Board Race a School Daze: Many Voters Question Significance
Ferrechio, Susan, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Bruce Norman, a retired federal worker and a resident of Southwest Washington, concedes he is no better able to choose candidates for the city's Board of Education than he was before listening to a dozen of the hopefuls at a three-hour forum Monday night.
"They all sound sincere," said Mr. Norman, 51, who has no children in the system but said he is concerned as a city resident. "But almost every person who's been elected to the Board of Education is sincere and it's all going to hell in a handbasket."
With the election less than a week away, many residents have either echoed the sentiments of Mr. Norman, or worse, don't know anything about the 27 candidates vying for six of the 11 seats on the board.
Many residents say they are asking themselves why they should even care about who is on the school board when a higher power, the D.C. financial control board, is really in charge.
The five-member panel was given broad authority by Congress to straighten out the financial and management crisis in the city and its 158 schools serving 78,600 students. The board has pledged to make changes that could include removing the school superintendent and stripping power from the school board.
"It's out of the realm of citizen control," said Mr. Norman. "We have a control board, so people kind of feel out of the loop."
The problems plaguing the system have turned into a litany. Officials don't know how many employees they have. Schools opened this year without new textbooks that were supposed to have been ordered - and some schools had to open late because of persistent fire-code violations that were never addressed.
Administrators have been disciplined for mismanaging contracts and money in the $579 million budget. And the system's transportation division is under a federal court order because special education students are waiting hours for a bus ride to school.
All the while, student test scores haven't crept from the bottom 25 percent in the country.
There are 16 men and 11 women vying for two at-large seats and four ward seats. Only three candidates, running for ward seats, are incumbents. All of them agree on at least one thing - that radical changes are needed in the school system.
"I felt like I could keep on complaining or get on the inside," said at-large candidate Robert G. Childs, a pastor at a Northwest church and a long-time activist.
Mr. Childs, 41, is among several candidates who say they want to replace School Superintendent Franklin Smith.
For first-time candidate Wanda Oates, a former basketball coach for the boys varsity team at Ballou High in Southeast who is also running at-large, firing Mr. Smith is first on her list of pledges if elected.
"He does not have the vision," Mrs. Oates, 54, said at the Monday night forum. "The school system is going backwards."
At-large candidate Tonya Kinlow said she would propose a system in which one manager would oversee educational policy and another would handle finances and day-to-day management of the administration. Several of the city's advocacy groups, including Parents United for the D.C. Schools, have already proposed such a strategy.
Mrs. Kinlow, 35, whose 8-year-old daughter attends Hearst Elementary in Northwest, said she hasn't made up her mind about whether to replace the superintendent.
While voters say they are feeling apathy and confusion about school board candidates, they are also expressing anger toward the board members seeking re-election.
Wilma Harvey, Ward 1, Angie Corley, Ward 5, and Bernard Gray Sr., Ward 6, all want another four years on the board.
Mrs. Harvey, who is serving her second term, said she understands the anti-incumbent attitude.
The school board is often paralyzed by evenly divided factions unable to agree on the most basic issues, such as whether the superintendent should be fired or whether to cut the work force. Meetings are often characterized by bickering, accusations and inaction.
"We have a failed leadership," she said in a recent interview. "It took a long time for me to get to that point. We need to bring some consensus to the board so we can work to improve the quality of education."
Despite the problems on the school board, not every resident has lost faith, says Rhonda Hamilton, who graduated from Duke Ellington School of the Arts last year. Miss Hamilton, 18, said among the biggest believers in the school system are its students and recent graduates.
"The older people are more critical than we are," said Miss Hamilton. "They want things to happen now. We understand that it takes time to work through the problems. It won't happen overnight."
CANDIDATES FOR D.C. BOARD OF EDUCATION The crowded field and the diminishing power of the board have left many voters confused and uninterested in Tuesday's D.C. Board of Education election, in which 27 candidates are running.
AT-LARGE (Top two vote-getters win):
* Robert G. Childs, 41, of Webster Street in Northwest. Pastor at the Berean Baptist Church in Northwest and the community representative for Brightwood Elementary School's Local School Restructuring Team.
* Jesse Battle, 44, of 19th Street in Northwest. Job developer for D.C. Change Inc., former advisory neighborhood commissioner and campaign organizer.
* Robert Artisst, 62, of Otis Street in Northeast. Retired college professor, president of Brookland Civic Association and an advisory neighborhood commissioner.
* Lawrence Gray, 48, of F Street in Northeast. Works in public relations for for Communications & Video Documentary Production, resolutions chairman for the D.C. Parent Teachers Association and past legislative chairman for the PTA Council.
* Romaine B. Thomas, would not give age, of 21st Street in Northeast. Principal of Ketcham Elementary in Southeast, former president of the D.C. Association of Secondary School Principals.
* Antonio J. White, 41, of 13th Street in Northwest. President of Emergency Bill Payers and Business Handlers. His two children are enrolled in city schools.
* Carlene Thompson, would not give age, of 37th Street in Southeast. Vice president of the Ballou High PTA and a volunteer working on public relations for Hendley Elementary in Southeast.
* Kim J. Perry, 32, of LeBaum Street in Southeast. Director of education for Church of the Living God Missionary and Evangelistic Center.
* Daniel Harrison, 50, of 22nd Street in Southeast. Chief of higher education and park initiatives for the National Park Service, past president of the Capitol Hill Cluster PTA.
* Lois Adams, 49, of Wisconsin Avenue in Northwest. Communications consultant, former board member of Big Brothers of the National Capital Area and a member of the D.C. Parenting Collaborative.
* Tonya Kinlow, 35, of Second Street in Southwest. Manager at NYLCare Healthplans of the Midatlantic.
* Joseph Webb, 47, of Taylor Street in Northeast. Former principal of the now-closed Rosario Adult Education Center, who fought unsuccessfully to raise enough money to keep the school operating.
* Wanda Oates, 54, of Fourth Street in Northwest. Retired Ballou teacher and former basketball coach for the boys varsity team at Ballou Senior High in Southeast.
* Sunday Abraham. Did not respond to phone calls seeking information.
WARD 1 (Pick one):
* Wilma Harvey, 51, of California Street in Northwest. Director of logistics and operations at the National Council of Negro Women. Has served on the board as Ward 1 representative for 10 years and is a past president.*
* Lenwood Johnson, 36, of Columbia Road in Northwest. Editor at CCH Inc. publishing house.
WARD 3 (Pick one):
* Don Reeves, 44, of Connecticut Avenue in Northwest. English professor at Prince George's Community College and member of the Murch local school restructuring team. Ran for mayor in 1994.
* Howard Grimmett, 62, of 45th Street in Northwest. Retired last year as director of civil rights at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, former president of the PTA at Wilson High and Deal Junior High.
* David Yassky, 32, of Veazey Street in Northwest. Contract lawyer with O'Melveny & Meyers and former budget analyst for the New York City government.
WARD 5 (Pick one):
* Edward K. Wolterbeek, 53, of Cherry Road in Northeast. Financial planner at Primerica Ins., co-founder of the Fort Lincoln Civic Association and founder of Fort Lincoln Citizens Association.
* Janice Denise Smith Autrey, 41, of 20th Street in Northeast. Supervisor with the D.C. Department of Human Services and parent activist who has volunteered and served as co-chairman for Parents United, a school advocacy group.
* Angie K. Corley, 71, of 14th Street in Northeast. Retired teacher and counselor for the D.C. school system, now serving her second term as Ward 5 representative on the board.*
* Antonia Hillyard, would not give age, of Evarts Street in Northeast. A retired D.C. school teacher and member of the Washington Urban League and the Political Caucus of Black Women.
WARD 6 (Pick one):
* Bernard A. Gray, Sr., 55, of 18th Street in Southeast. Real estate and family lawyer, now serving his first term on the board.*
* Benjamin Bonham, 43, of F Street in Northeast. Self-employed accountant and financial planner, former PTA president at Miner Elementary School who was narrowly defeated by Mr. Gray in 1992.
* Wayne Curtin, 41, of Independence Avenue in Southeast. Vice president of government relations for the Motorcycle Riders Foundation. Volunteered for several nonprofit groups and as secretary for an advisory neighborhood commission.
* Deborah Scott, 35, of I Street in Southeast. Special assistant to D.C. Council member Frank Smith. Monitors education issues before the school board and council, and tutors students at the Potomac Gardens apartments in Southeast.
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Board Race a School Daze: Many Voters Question Significance. Contributors: Ferrechio, Susan - Author. Newspaper title: The Washington Times (Washington, DC). Publication date: October 31, 1996. Page number: 5. © 2009 The Washington Times LLC. COPYRIGHT 1996 Gale Group.
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