- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2000

Barely, just barely, voters in the District of Columbia agreed to restructure the school governance hierarchy. If absentee and special ballots fall the same way, voters will return to the polls this fall to elect four new members to the Board of Education and, for the first time, elect a board president. Supporters of the referendum cannot yet claim victory even though opponents should concede defeat. That is because the true results of Tuesday's vote cannot be seen at first blush.

For one thing, only a disappointing 11.6 percent of the city's 331,964 registered voters even bothered to vote. That in and of itself speaks volumes about voter apathy in the District. The low turnout says something else as well chiefly that opponents, including the D.C. PTA and School Board members, did not push hard enough for the constituents who are not yet old enough to vote for themselves. You know, the ones they claim to represent.

Mayor Williams, on the other hand, pushed too hard and violated D.C. regulations by campaigning on government time, in government facilities and deploying government employees (he better not do that again). He and others also rallied support in the days leading up to the election by shaking hands at Metro stops and greeting folks at popular weekend sites. Still, victory remains in doubt until 1,500 absentee and 500 special ballots are counted, underscoring opponents' lack of real interest in democracy and education. The slim turnout and the narrow margin (a mere 848 vote difference) means that once those other ballots are tabulated July 7 the "victory" at the polls could easily become defeat for D.C. school children.

Notwithstanding the forthcoming results, consider what is already known. The highest turnout was in Ward 3, where mostly affluent neighborhoods are situated. There, 15.8 percent of voters showed at the polls compared to 6.5 percent in the southeast corner of the city. Interesting as well are these facts: Ward 3 council member Kathy Patterson supported the referendum and appears to be on the winning side, while Ward 8's lawmaker, Sandy Allen, opposed the referendum. As for individual precincts, Precinct 62 in Ward 4, which is rich with school teachers and other educators, recorded the largest turnout with 1,022 votes. The lowest turnout was in Ward 6's Precinct 131, across from the Navy Yard in Southeast, where only 34 voters cast ballots. Again, registered voters are mostly poor. Results also show the referendum was voted against in half the city's eight wards Wards 4, 5, 7 and 8, all of which are predominately black.

When tallied those results say public education, an issue which ordinarily draws considerable interest from all demographic quarters, was essentially ignored by the very constituents who would most benefit from a better-run school system. But guess what? You don't hear opponents talking about that, now do you?

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