- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2002

Wednesday, Dec. 4, 10 p.m. Not a flake falling from the sky. Montgomery County officials announce schools will be closed the next day in anticipation of a half-foot of snow in this season's first storm.
Thursday, Dec. 5, 7:40 a.m. Snow falling furiously, cars skidding and pedestrians slipping. State police agencies advise motorists to stay home. Federal government offices remain open, but all area school systems are closed except the District's.
Thursday, Dec. 5, 7:59 a.m. Broadcasters announce that D.C. officials have reversed themselves and are closing the schools, after parents and students already are trekking through the predicted snow to school.
Thursday, Dec. 5, 8:15 a.m.-10:15 a.m. D.C. schools Superintendent Paul L. Vance spends two hours saying, "I made a mistake," explaining his abrupt about-face.
Oops. Better safe than sorry. Oops. Better late than never. Oops. Better find a better way.
Why not take a chill pill? What happened to the time-honored "two-hour delay?"
The same two hours that Mr. Vance spent explaining his late call to close schools could have been more productive had he decided to delay school opening by two hours from the outset. That would have given him time to change his decision if needed. Same goes for the federal government.
When the National Weather Service predictions seem certain, as they were in this case, it makes sense to delay commuters at the very least until road crews can adequately perform their removal tasks without trying to maneuver around drivers trying to get to work on time.
It produces a snowball effect. While it's true that the Washington area has not had to deal with much of the white stuff for nearly three years, this is not the first time snow has fallen this early in the season. It barely gets cloudy and we have fender benders and traffic gridlock before the first snowflake hits the ground.
Still, when was the last time a D.C. bureaucrat admitted his culpability? We'll give some credit to Mr. Vance that, in recognizing his mistake, he fixed it, took responsibility without passing the buck and promised parents and students that he will do better next time.
His boss, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, ought to take a page from the Vance "mea culpa" playbook, especially when it comes to finding a solution to revamping the city's current health care system that puts sick people across the city at serious risk.
One Northwest resident, Carlos Curtis, a football coach at Spingarn High School, told The Washington Times' Denise Barnes that he kept his children out of school despite Mr. Vance's original decision because the superintendent is "not organized."
However, Mr. Curtis went on to lay blame on the mayor's shoulders because "as long as Anthony Williams is in office, we are in trouble."
No argument here, but Mr. Williams like former Mayor Marion S. Barry before him is not solely responsible for the chaos that's created in this region every time a snowflake falls.
A better regional response is in order.
It is a widely known fact that a group of local, state, federal and regional bureaucrats in charge of personnel offices, public safety departments, public works departments and transit agencies engage in conference calls to determine what offices will be closed, what roads will be plowed and what resources will be sent where when a big event such as a snowstorm occurs.
Millions have been spent on emergency preparedness in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Do these people ever really talk or listen to one another? Do they not understand the ripple effects of many of their poor public-policy decisions?
So much for "smart growth." So much for telecommuting.
Why would the federal government remain open and expect its 300,000 employees to report to work on time when many of those employees are parents whose children do not have classes to attend?
Mr. Vance, for example, should have realized that with 65 percent of his teaching staff living in Maryland, he would have had no one to supervise students even though they can walk to school.
One reason front-line workers have to commute is because of government policies that encourage development of expensive, luxury residences instead of affordable housing for working-class families. Do these highly paid agency heads understand that many in the region's work force are hourly wage earners with no "liberal leave" who cannot afford to stay home?
As for the explanation that D.C. schools need to remain open because it's the "safe haven" for many children who receive their only hot meals of the day, there speaks to the failure of the region's social safety net. And we wonder why public schools have such poor performance records.
Though it has become an unfortunate reality, it should not be the place of educators to keep children safe and fed.
Getting workers from Point A to Point B shed light not only on the region's transportation problems but also on a wide range of interconnected issues that public servants are not handling effectively or efficiently.
Again, a coordinated effort across the region is called for before the next storm is upon us.


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