- The Washington Times - Friday, October 4, 2002

It happens every year. It happened this year. It must stop. The "it" is the shortchanging of D.C. school children. Here's what happens. The superintendent draws up an annual budget. The Board of Education puts in its 2 cents (1 cent politics, 1 cent reality), and then votes to send the budget to the mayor. The mayor puts in his 2 cents and sends the budget to the D.C. Council. The D.C. Council tosses the school budget to the wind, stands aside and lets budget chits fall where they may and they usually land closer to union halls than a schoolhouse. The past few years, after all was said and done, the school budget had been overspent by $150 million. This year's figure was $30 million. Last year, officials overspent tens of thousands on utilities. The year before on transportation.

This has gone on far too long. It has gone on for so long that the names of the irresponsible politicians are irrelevant.

Inarguably, the problem is not an individual but the politics vested in an elected Board of Education. Understand, the board was the first elected entity in modern D.C. politics. It came into being in 1968 and, as the first elected entity, attracted all manner of wannabe politicians. More importantly, it spawned political hijinks, as school board members began successfully using the school board to spring to higher office on the backs of children. Is it a mere coincidence that public education in the nation's capital has taken a back seat ever since?

Things are so terrible today that 35 percent of the District's population is illiterate, one in five children lives below the poverty level and high-school grads are unemployable. Standardized test scores have been embarassingly low for more than two decades. Physical plants have deteriorated before our very eyes. School-based engineers aren't qualified to operate the new equipment brought in, and teachers aren't qualified to operate the new technology. Neighborhood schools that should have closed long ago continue the disgusting practice of social promotion. School-based budgeting is a joke, and one of several new school buildings projected to cost $7 million is now estimated to cost three times that much.

This is sickening in and of itself. When you toss in the consensus solution schools need more money it's even more nauseating.

Teachers want a raise, they get a raise. As a matter of fact, union workers get lots of raises while children in their midst are academically stunted. Some advocates claim the lack of money is the problem, but even after pay scales were restructured and workers received retroactive raises, children still didn't measure up academically. Can't blame the children. It's the adults who are making them suffer.

Here's an example indicative of the overall incompetence. In Prince George's County, Superintendent Iris Metts managed to get new elementary schools built at a per-square-foot cost of $157, and the costs are about the same in fast-growing Montgomery County. In the District, however, per-square-foot costs range from $220 to $269.

Why? Politics put the cart before the horse. That is, the timeline was bassackwards. First, parents and community leaders decided which schools would be built and which ones would be simply modernized. Then, officials got estimates and put in their 2 cents. Only afterward did it dawn on officials that we needed drafts and designs for the new buildings.

That D.C. Public School buildings manage to open every day and have tens of thousands of children pour into them under the pretense of learning happens only because children have few options. For the children's sake, we must change those circumstances and that hardly entails employing a rocket scientist, who officials wouldn't know one if they saw one anyway.

In the short term, there are two sets of professionals who need to be booted: the planners, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and the budgeteers, who repeatedly fail to see the warning signs of overspending.

The long-term forecast calls for a wholly appointed school board one appointed by the mayor and the legislature. neither the hybrid oddity presently in place, which is half-appointed, half-elected, is working. And the former all-elected board was a disaster.

An appointed school board is the only way to ensure that political shenanigans take a back seat to children.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide