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Native Intelligence
Finger pointing needs to stop
(Published March 25, 2002)

By DIANA WINTHROP

If I hear one more elected official in this city claim education is their number one priority, I think Iíll scream.

It seems to be easier for them to attack than to provide encouragement and support.

I am exhausted just from listening to the haranguing by D.C. City Council members, who find it easy to bemoan the "incompetence" of D.C. Public Schools officials and the school board ó even though the council continues to shortchange the schools at budget time and then complain that "irresponsible" school officials "overspend."

The real hypocrisy on the council is the complaint that student test scores have not improved and the city is wasting money.

It is especially egregious that two former members of the school board Ė Council Chairman Linda Cropp and At-Large Councilwoman Carol Schwartz Ė often are the loudest complainers.

Come on, ladies. If they had dealt with the spiraling costs of educating children classified as "special education" during their school board tenure, the school system and the city would not have misspent millions over the years sending children out of state. Special education costs now consume 30 percent of the systemís budget.

Superintendent Paul Vance and his CEO, Steven Seleznow, are among the best educators this beleaguered school system has had running the district and, frankly, it is a miracle they havenít packed their bags and left town out of frustration.

Council sources say the stage is set for a battle royal next month over the DCPS budget, which is barely 1 percent higher than last year.

Add to the usual budget battles Councilwoman Kathy Patter-sonís plan to control the school systemís spending by doling out its money a quarter at a time. This idiotic financial plan has in the past resulted in children lacking textbooks at the beginning of the school year and teachers lacking supplies. But for Patter-son that seems to be just fine as long as her constituents think she cares about the children and is concerned with spending their tax dollars. Patterson doesnít seem to be concerned about the chaos caused by this kind of "spending control."

I havenít heard a peep out of Patterson over the windfall that charter schools receive when students drop out of charter schools and return to public schools. The money stays with the charter schools and does not return to the public schools to which the children transfer.

For the first time in anyoneís memory, DCPS received its money last July and was ready for students when they arrived in September.

For most public school advocates, it was a hopeful sign that children were in fact the number one priority for elected officials in the city.

But the finger pointing is about to begin again, with Schwartz probably primed to lead the charge again. Schwartz repeats her same statements every time the school board comes before the council. She just doesnít get it.

One year of financial stability is not going to improve public education in the city. It will take at least five years without the haranguing and name calling and finger pointing. School officials have to take some of the blame for not fighting back and defending the school system. There have been improvements, but more are needed.

This cityís children deserve better than Patterson, Schwartz and Cropp have given them. And Carol, when the budget hearings occur in April, donít give the same lecture for the cameras as you have for years.

***

The writer, a native Washingtonian with more than 25 years in the news business, spends her nights toiling as an editorial producer for a network morning news show. Contact her at diana@thecommondenominator.com with your news tips.

Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator