Out of Order

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

UNUSABLE BATHROOMS and outdated fire sprinklers and alarms may greet some D.C. students when they return to school in a few weeks. Angry parents can blame D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8). A few weeks ago, in reference to the city's efforts to complete unfinished repairs before the start of the school year, Mr. Barry told reporters, "Thank God we've got a change coming. Things are even worse than I thought." Now Mr. Barry is delaying essential repairs to District schools -- including many in his ward.

Mr. Barry has introduced a "disapproval resolution," a parliamentary maneuver that is delaying distribution of $8.9 million worth of funding for school repairs. The money would help bring D.C. schools into compliance with safety and health-code requirements, including the installation of exit signs and the replacement of expired fire extinguishers. It would also help fund the District's summer "blitz" to repair roofs, bathrooms and floors at some 38 schools. Schools will still open if those repairs aren't made, but they will be difficult to complete while school is in session. Mr. Barry has until the end of the week to withdraw his resolution opposing the funding. Otherwise, city officials say there won't be time to make the repairs.

City officials said that Mr. Barry told them he is holding up the funds in retaliation for the city's shuttering a youth summer enrichment program in his district. Mr. Barry told us that's not his motivation; he said he introduced the resolution because Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) tried to steamroll the school repair budget through the council without even a hearing being held. That may be a legitimate grievance, but punishing students is the wrong way to make the point.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company