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Whatís the mayorís plan?
(Published September 22, 2003)

Does anyone know where Mayor Anthony A. Williams wants to lead the D.C. Public Schools? Not even mayoral spokesman Tony Bullock could outline the mayorís grand plan when the publisher of this newspaper put him on the spot during a live broadcast Sept. 19 of WAMUís "D.C. Politics Hour" by asking what the mayorís price tag is for bringing excellent public schools to the District.

Itís hardly an unfair question to ask. The mayor and D.C. City Council Chairman Linda Cropp last week asked the D.C. Board of Education to give up its statutory line-item authority over the school systemís budget Ė all in exchange for only partially funding pay raises in a union contract that the mayor and the council approved.

Many of the Districtís teachers are threatening to strike Oct. 2 if the mayor, council and school board do not live up to their obligations under the contract, which was negotiated by the mayorís office. The school board says it will need to make budget cuts that will be detrimental to classroom-level educational quality if the mayor and council fail to provide the money they promised to cover the 9 percent salary increases.

Noses continue to grow at the Wilson Building every time the mayor and council insist that they funded the pay raises in an increased fiscal 2004 budget for the schools. School board member Tommy Wells seems to be the only local officeholder whose publicly displayed math skills would reach the Stanford-9 testís "basic" level when he notes that an approximate $5 million budget increase for the schools clearly fails to maintain existing programs while "funding" more than $40 million in pay raises.

Meanwhile, the mayor and his staff are devoting an inordinate amount of effort to lobbying Congress for a school voucher experiment that would allow up to 2,000 D.C. schoolchildren to attend private schools at taxpayer expense while doing little or nothing to help the public schools.

Neither of these examples of how Mayor Williams approaches school-related budgeting inspires confidence that the mayor is being responsible about funding the Districtís public schools. Yet, the mayor has repeatedly throughout his tenure sought to take over legal authority for the school systemís budget.

So what exactly is the mayorís plan for improving the public schools? Does he truly want to improve them or is he simply trying to privatize them? Maybe he just wants to continue to foist additional politically inspired experiments that help only a handful of children on an already experiment-laden school system. Or, possibly, the mayor has no plan whatsoever.

Granted, a few children are helped every time a new education experiment is mandated for D.C. Public Schools. But while the mayor continually looks to emulate "best practices" of other cities for improving D.C. government services, he does not appear interested in duplicating the "best practices" of the thousands of excellent public school systems that educate the majority of American children without treating them as guinea pigs.

Public school systems can actually work well when funded adequately by government officials and managed correctly by educators, not politicians.

D.C. parents, rightly, want an excellent education for their children. Many, if not most, who now pay twice for that education by sending their children to tuition-funded private schools would happily enroll their children in excellent public schools.

Politicians need to stop using D.C. schoolchildren as political pawns Ė and the public needs to stop falling prey to self-serving politiciansí agendas that continually and inaccurately malign everything and everyone connected with D.C. Public Schools as failing. The District will get excellent public schools when local taxpayers get serious about demanding a real plan from the mayor, the council and the school board to rebuild them.

Copyright 2003, The Common Denominator