D.C. school activists have a massive task in keeping school system and city leaders accountable to the public on a range of education issues -- from school closings, to restructuring failing schools, to budgets, to fixing dilapidated buildings. Now there's a squabble over how much they should hold each other's feet to the fire.
Marc Borbely, a former Eastern High School teacher and current UDC law student, is well known in the school advocacy community for keeping the pressure on Mayor Adrian Fenty and Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee with tactics such as the recent lawsuit he and several others filed to get access to the 2009 budget. It turns out that Borbely can be just as tough on his fellow school advocates.
Borbely recently sent an e-mail to longtime activist Mary Filardo, executive director of the 21st Century School Fund, asking her not to host an upcoming advocates meeting on Monday evening (MARCH 31) on the capital budget at her office. He argued that he and other advocates would not attend because "you're working directly for Fenty/Rhee" as a consultant on facilities issues.
In a subsequent e-mail to advocates, Borbely said that Filardo refused to relocate the meeting.
When advocate Cathy Reilly of the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators (SHAPPE) mass e-mailed activists suggesting that their time would be better spent focusing on the budget, he pounced on her.
"Since you have come out supporting 21st Century School Fund's position that this meeting must be held in their offices, can you also disclose to people that SHAPPE is funded (fully funded?) by 21st Century School Fund?" he wrote in a private e-mail to her, copying in another advocate.
"According to their IRS Form 990s, they gave you $25,000 in 2004, and $25,000 in 2006," he added. "I'm not saying this is why you support them, but I think people should know they pay your bills."
Seeking to avoid such situations, Borbely sent a blast e-mail to advocates suggesting "Good Citizen Principles." They include:
-- sharing information received from the government with advocates, but carrying on "no secret discussions with the government."
-- not compromising "our independence by taking money from the government."
-- disclosing major funding sources.
Said Filardo: "I think it's sad this is going on in the advocacy community -- these personal attacks. It's not helping get better schools."
Reilly called Borbely's efforts "divisive and poisonous," saying it is a "distraction from the work."
For his part, Borbely said he was "not inclined to want to comment" about the e-mails. "I'm just one guy saying I didn't think we should be meeting there."