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On June 27, vote NO

(Published June 5, 2000)

Change initiated merely for the sake of changing something is an entirely wrong approach to governing. Yet, that’s exactly what the mayor, the council and the control board appear to be asking voters to do by putting forward the proposed change in our city’s home rule charter that will be on a special election ballot June 27.

Elected officials seeking a change in the way we select the D.C. Board of Education are so lukewarm to their own proposal that none of them bothered to show up for a citywide informational forum the League of Women Voters sponsored last month. Both Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Councilman Kevin P. Chavous, chairman of the council’s education committee, sent aides in their place to defend their plan to a largely critical electorate in attendance.

Their absence did not help their cause.

In fact, the mayor was so "busy," as his apologetic stand-in aide told forum attendees, that he chose instead to attend at-large Councilman Harold Brazil’s re-election campaign kickoff party.

That’s called putting politics ahead of the children.

And that’s exactly what we believe elected officials are surreptitiously trying to do with their proposal that voters scrap the elected D.C. Board of Education.

Remove politics from the public schools and increase accountability?

Don’t believe it.

The special election was scheduled for June 27 during a poorly publicized, late-night meeting at which the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics declared an "emergency" in order to avoid a legal requirement that the referendum be placed on the Sept. 12 primary election ballot. Citywide primaries historically generate a respectable voter turnout while special elections do not. A low voter turnout benefits whoever’s war chest is big enough to turn out the most voters.

This special election – with a $370,000 price tag – is about a power grab, pure and simple. And somebody, down the line, is expecting to profit as a result.

This isn’t about educating the children.

Approving the referendum will ultimately put the partisan politicians serving on the D.C. City Council and in the mayor’s office in direct control of the public schools – replacing the current non-partisan governance structure embodied in the elected school board.

Approving the referendum will increase the opportunities for our city’s children to be exploited for personal gain by politicians and the monied interests who contribute the campaign funds that help elect them.

This referendum is not about creating a "hybrid" school board of partially elected and partially appointed members.

This referendum is about what happens to the D.C. Board of Education and our public schools four years from now.

Approving the referendum gives the city council and mayor carte blanche four years down the road to run the schools in any manner they choose by simply passing a law – without asking the voters. They could abolish the school board. They could eliminate the superintendent. They could hire a private contractor to operate the "public" schools and profit off our city’s children.

This proposal is the wrong kind of change for D.C. Public Schools. It will not fix longstanding dysfunction and threatens to exacerbate the current problems. Even the people supporting this proposal acknowledge there is no clear evidence that making this change will fix anything.

D.C. voters should remain in direct charge of the basic structure of local government, including who makes policy for the public schools. That authority should not be delegated to a partisan, pliable city council. The way to maintain citizen control is to require that the school governance structure remain a part of the home rule charter. Only the voters – or a paternalistic undemocratic Congress, over the objection of the voters – can change the charter.

We urge D.C. voters to exercise one of their few citizenship rights by going to the polls June 27 and voting NO on the proposed charter change.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator