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This fight isnít about the children

(Published January 17, 2000)

The rhetoric surrounding Mayor Anthony A. Williamsí proposal to take over control of D.C. Public Schools has become quite disturbing.

While the mayor trumpets "a real sense that momentum is going our way" behind his proposal, based largely on the business communityís support, all of the major organizations of parents who have children enrolled in the cityís public schools say they oppose the mayorís plan.

Thereís something wrong here.

Thereís a lot wrong here.

And the major newspapers in this city, having editorially hitched themselves to the bandwagon thatís pushing elimination of the elected school board, havenít even bothered to tell their readers what the childrenís parents are saying.

Mayor Williams, who has repeatedly pledged to help this cityís children, gave us pause last week when he visited Ballou Senior High School students during the school day in what his office promoted as a "photo op." A press release issued Jan. 10 by the mayorís office described the event as "the first in a series of visits of District schools over the next several weeks to promote the mayorís school reform initiative."

The mayor should be ashamed of himself for interrupting educational instruction for political purposes. We hope this isnít an example of what we can expect if the mayor were running the schools.

The business communityís alleged support for the mayorís plan is curious, to say the least. The D.C. Chamber of Commerce, which trotted out new president Elizabeth Lisboa-Farrow to be part of the mayorís announcement and then almost immediately issued a press release supporting the mayorís plan, hasnít bothered to poll its membership on this matter before speaking in their name (we know ó weíre a member). And the Greater Washington Board of Trade, with its largely suburban membership, should hardly carry great weight in matters of local D.C. governance.

We have serious questions about the propriety of the business community weighing in at all on matters of school governance. The business community really has no business telling D.C. residents whether an elected or appointed board Ė or the mayor ó should run their childrenís public schools.

The business community does have a legitimate interest in whether those schools produce an educated and educable workforce. Many millions of Americans who fit that bill have graduated from public schools under the control of elected school boards. Thereís no good reason it canít happen here.

So whatís really going on here?

Big-time politics and profits. Itís not about the children.

Itís about power and control, not accountability.

We suspect some members of the business community are already jockeying to be in the right position during the next several years when millions of dollars worth of construction contracts get handed out ó for fixing deteriorated school buildings and for building the new schools now in the initial planning stages.

Thereís a lot of money to be made in those deals.

The children? Yeah, tell us itís about the children.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator