- The Washington Times - Friday, February 9, 2001

Tsk, tsk, tsk. What are we going to do with the District's public school system? These nine folks have been in office less than two months and already they've drawn up a budget that has little to do with educating youngsters or addressing parents' concerns. Honestly, it's as if the folks running the school system speak one language and the parents and children who are supposed to benefit speak another.
That is the only conclusion you can reach after digesting the "Satisfaction with D.C. Public School System in 1998: Local School Report." The report surveyed 4,312 teachers, 9,517 students and 6,285 parents. Principals, vice principals and school staff were surveyed, too. But school officials did not release those findings (probably too honest an appraisal).
The report gives an overall sense of where one school stands compared to the system overall and trust me, the system overall doesn't fare very well. For example, among high schools, 24 percent of D.C. public school teachers agreed "we have an adequate number of computers" and 22 percent said "we have appropriate computer software." Meanwhile, only 48 percent of parents believe their child's school has enough books and supplies.
Now, if teachers know they are ill-equipped to instruct children, do you think it fair to then turn around and assess the child based on those deficiencies? Teachers don't either. Moreover, only 54 percent of teachers believe their "school has the authority to determine what is best for students" and a mere 32 percent agreed the "budget reflects that it is committed to high student achievement."
Sad to say, it doesn't get any better. The D.C. Board of Education recently proposed a $717 million budget for fiscal year 2002. The board's request is $34 million higher than that requested by Superintendent Paul Vance. The board's request includes money to give teachers another raise, to hire more janitors, to hire more teachers for bilingual classes, and to hire more teachers for preschool programs. It also includes more money to "fix" the school system's payroll system. Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz called the superintendent's budget a "starting point," and said the board's request is higher because "we must move a bit faster in some areas."
Trust me Mrs. Cafritz certainly must lead the school system in another director and she must move at a faster clip. The problem is the budget does not break new ground. The budget is as status quo as budgets come.
Honestly, from the viewpoint of this public school parent, I don't think the board is capable of drawing up a budget that cuts to the chase because the board does not support school choice, nor does the board support school reform. And, if the board does not support choice or reform then the board does not support children.
I'm not the only one who is disgruntled with what anti-choice folks hath wrought "We're already putting a lot of money into schools and don't where it's going. If money could solve the problem, would the problem be solved by now?" That's Mayor Williams. The same Mayor Williams who supported Mrs. Cafritz's bid for school board president.
So it appears the mayor understands (and appreciates) the true bottom line and not the board's which, by the way, at $717 million averages out to $10,545 per student and does not include the extra dollars for free lunch, language deficiencies and other entitlements.
On the other hand, the true bottom line means the school system's problems are less related to money than management and, here again, flexibility and options. Try this anecdotal evidence: "We have to run the school just like a business," Josh Kern, a Georgetown law grad, recently told a reporter for this newspaper.
So you see there are educators who speak the same language as parents, and parents willing to listen to them. As it is, parents of 80 ninth-graders have listened to Mr. Kern and his supporters and are expected to enroll their children in his new charter school this fall. The new school, which will have a law-based curriculum, will bring close to 40 the total number of charter schools in the District and more than 10,000 the total number of students enrolled in them which means the District's public school budget should be shrinking not increasing.
That Cafritz & Co. are carrying on an incestuous financial affair is disappointing. Small wonder more and more parents are running toward charters and vouchers. Tsk, tsk.
E-mail: simmon@twtmail.com


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