Potomac Confidential

Marc Fisher
Washington Post Metro Columnist
Friday, January 18, 2008; 12:00 PM

Washington Post Metro columnist Marc Fisher was online Friday, Jan. 18, at Noon ET with a special edition of Potomac Confidential to look at Thursday night's hearings on the proposed closings of 23 D.C. public schools and the outlook for Chancellor Michelle Rhee's reform efforts.

D.C. School Closings: The Hearings ( Raw Fisher, Jan. 17)

Parents Slam Schools Plan at Hearings ( Post, Jan. 18)

A transcript follows.


Marc Fisher: Welcome aboard, folks. Schools are going to close in the District, perhaps the 23 that Chancellor Michelle Rhee has proposed to shut down, perhaps a slightly different list. And it's the doubt about what the final list will look like that drove about 400 people to head out into the slush last night to testify at 23 separate hearings all around the city.

The turnout was weak by any standard. Does that reflect a lack of interest, or general agreement that the closings are necessary, or cynicism about the legitimacy of the hearings process that Rhee put into place?

Where is the D.C. school system heading? What did you see last night if you did go? What happens after the closings?

Those and many more questions ahead in this hour--here we go.


Dupont Circle, D.C.: I wasn't at any of the meetings last night, but I read the article describing them in the paper today. All of the arguments from the parents seemed to be "Don't close our school because we don't want you to." They didn't seem to have a good reason not to close their neighborhood's school. Is this an accurate representation of what happened yesterday? Parents Slam Schools Plan at Hearings ( Post, Jan. 18)

Marc Fisher: There are many reasons why parents, neighbors and activists don't want their local school to be shut down, and most of those reasons make a lot of sense in the narrow, local perspective, but if there is general agreement that schools must be closed, then, well, some schools must be closed. The zero or near-zero turnouts at some schools last night is certainly an indicator that those closings are not causing major heartburn. But there are a handful or less of places where the closing really doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and those are the schools that have been able to get people out and active on their behalf.

Among the arguments that make sense in various places: The school is doing decently well academically. The school has recently had major money put into it for renovations. And the school may be underenrolled, but has a good number of kids living nearby who are sent to a far-off location because of the D.C. system's crazy boundary lines.


Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Marc,

Thanks for the article this morning. I can't help but feel that, in general, the Post has done a sloppy job of reporting this issue by allowing a very vocal minority to dominate the news stories. There are potentially thousands of people affected by the proposed closing and only a few hundred have expressed concerns, mostly about their own schools.

As an aside, the belief that your school is fine it's just everyone else's that stinks is alot like the polling on Members of Congress, where most members have approval ratings from their own consituents of over 50 percent, but the approval rating for the Congress as a whole is 13 percent. My guy/gal is great, it's just everyone else that's an idiot.

Anyway, based on the comments to Post articles, there are plenty of people that think closing these schools is exactly what needs to be done, yet the Post can't seem to get around to finding one for the articles. As a result, the impression is that "parents" oppose the closings, when the reality is that most parents do not.

Marc Fisher: As a reader, I agree that the loud but tiny group of opponents has gotten more than its share of coverage from the media all around town. That's an unfortunate tendency in the press--we tend to cover those who shout out against something more than we cover those who quietly sit at home and think to themselves that things are going in the right direction.


Columbia Heights, D.C.: Marc, what's your take on the turnout for last night's meetings? Based on what I've read today, it appears most of those in attendance were in opposition to the entire school-closings plan or at least to the closing of their own neighborhood's school. But I can't help thinking that the overall number of attendees (about 600 between the official meetings and the "people's meeting")in a city of this size is pretty unimpressive.

Marc Fisher: The overall number is indeed very telling. And it makes sense that those who took the effort to head out to a hearing last night would be in opposition--what's the percentage in going out to tell the city that the administration is doing the right thing?


Washington, D.C.: I cannot help thinking Dr. Janey could have provided a better plan, at least he had the institutional knowledge, and has already made these mistakes and learned from them. Rhee is still not looking at the whole picture, facilities, security, achievement and community use when proposing a school closure. Please enlighten me and others how schools were picked.

Marc Fisher: Rhee used a formula based largely on the gap between enrollment and capacity, the recent rate of decline in student enrollment at a school, and the availability of empty space in adjacent schools. Of course test scores and other measures of school quality figured in as well, but this was largely a matter of facilities and geography.

Janey, Rhee's predecessor, had a closings process moving along at his glacial pace, and I haven't heard anyone in the system argue that his list would have differed much from Rhee's--except that Rhee seems determined to use her list to actually close buildings, whereas Janey didn't seem to have his heart in that project.


Washington, D.C.: How does this affect charter schools which seem to be on the rise in terms of quality?

Marc Fisher: I asked Rhee about that when she was at The Post for an interview this week, and she said that neither she nor the school system has any control over the disposition of the closed school buildings. There is law that says that closed schools will be made available to charter schools, which are hungry for decent space and are in many cases relegated to inappropriate space in office buildings, churches and so on. But the DCPS buildings will go into the District's pool of properties and Fenty's administration will determine what happens to them. He has said that there are lots of community needs that the buildings could serve, such as health centers, libraries, offices.


Petworth, D.C.: And what about transportation costs? I think it's fine for kids of all ages to walk at least a mile to school, but is that in the plan? Or will local school closings add huge bus costs to getting the wee ones where they're going?

Marc Fisher: The District doesn't bus kids to school except for special ed students.

Rhee says that while some kids will have to walk a greater distance after the closings, care has been taken to assure that little kids don't have to cross major thoroughfares and that the distances aren't onerous. But parents in several neighborhoods beg to differ and have come up with specific examples of places where kids who now live within a couple of blocks of school will have to walk 15 or so blocks.


SE, D.C.: I am not a fan of Fenty-Rhee on this issue. However, it is an absolute no brainer that DCPS has excess capacity. Every superintendent and school board of the last two decades had to address the issue. Most cowardly avoided it.

My concern is the system they still propose does not breed equity, nor address basic educational needs and instruction. We all know folks from all over the city take and send their kids to select schools in Ward 3/NW. I caught the bus across town myself. Due to the weighted student formula, those kids bring many more dollars to the respective school budget as opposed to their neighborhood school and thus the out of boundary school can provide more. I know of the proposed savings, but I do not see/hear Fenty-Rhee doing or saying anything to address the issue of equity? Looking at the DCPS Web site, Wilson offers 5 additional academies in its school. Of the many high schools, only 4 others offer 1. Of which it seems Wilson has a duplicate program of at least 2. Adding academies and programs to my school that are not for everyone serves no purpose. It just seems to me issues are being ignored. When you have 10th grade kids reading on 5th grade levels, it just seems addressing those needs would have some precedence. I just don't see it.

Marc Fisher: Excellent point. Rhee's argument is that the savings from the closings will help fund the restoration of arts, PE and other academic initiatives. But with the system facing a huge deficit, it's not clear when those additions can be made.

The Ward 3 issue is one that Rhee tends to scoff at, but it is real and remains unaddressed: Ward 3 schools are overcrowded and therefore weren't serious candidates for closing, but there is a quality gap caused by the perception that the Ward 3 schools get more resources or better treatment. For generations, many parents in the city have decided to send their kids to the other side of the park on the theory that the school were better in white, affluent Ward 3. The challenge to Rhee and the city is to alter that perception by creating high quality programs elsewhere around town.

But it's a chicken-egg problem--how do you make the other schools better when the more driven and committed parents are sending their kids to the Ward 3 schools?

This all reminds me of what national retailers say when asked why they don't locate stores in Prince George's County. They argue that the shoppers there wouldn't shop close to home because they believe that the stores in Pentagon City and Tysons are treated better and get the better goods and service.


Washington native: Did it strike you as odd the meeting to close one school was at another school? Granted, it seems folks should care, but can't you see how folks are just disgusted and disenchanted with government as a whole? Come on, 23 separate meetings at the same time? 10-minute cameo appearances? My kids don't go to DCPS but I would be grossly offended and ticked off.

Marc Fisher: I don't see what the offense is. The system already held a long series of regional hearings all around the city at which the chancellor and all her top aides were in attendance. This last step was meant to let each school's defenders make their arguments, so it's natural that the meetings would be held in each neighborhood. As for location, they put the meetings at the receiving schools, that is, the schools where kids would move to if their school is indeed closed. What's the problem with that?


Washington, D.C.: No discussion of the turnout should be missing the known boycotts of these meetings by parents who wanted to talk to Rhee directly. I disagree with them, but there was a definite boycott of the meetings which the Post should have been aware of.

Marc Fisher: Our report actually focused a good deal on the Wilson Building meeting of those who boycotted the individual school hearings.


Silver Spring, Md.: Marc,

When I first saw this chat session posted, I thought you were going to discuss school closings due to the snow yesterday.

Are you sure the weather wasn't a factor in the low turnout last night? I heard some bad stories from my co-workers this morning about their evening commutes last night.

Marc Fisher: Strangely, the organizers of the anti-hearings hearing at the Wilson Building went ahead with their so-called People's hearing despite their criticism of Rhee for charging ahead with her 23 hearings on a day in which it had snowed a bit. By 6 p.m., the snow was melting and there was a light drizzle-- not blizzard conditions by any stretch of the imagination. It's hard to imagine that people were really deterred by the weather.


Washington, D.C.: Not trying to be too cynical, but I always thought that 23 was a very large number of schools to close. I figured that the District always intended to close fewer but had to have some sort of give-back after public meetings. It's like developers in D.C. They always want extra stories and no concession, but eventually negotiate a deal that makes financial sense.

Marc Fisher: I don't get the sense that the final number will be much below 23, if there is any change at all in the tally. Rhee wouldn't say specifically whether her final decision will include a different number of schools but she did tantalizingly say that there will be some changes in the plan as a result of the public input. There are a couple of schools that have built compelling cases for remaining open, and I'd be surprised if at least two didn't get saved.

Last night at Garnet-Patterson Middle School, for example, council member Jim Graham (Ward 1) seemed to fear that scenario as he made an impassioned plea for Garnet to remain open, even though it's not on the closings list. Graham's fear is that Rhee will give in to the considerable local pressure to save Shaw Middle School, which is on the closings list, and will simply switch Shaw with Garnet.

At the same meeting, Graham's colleague, Jack Evans, the Ward 2 council member, made a similarly strong pitch to save Shaw Middle. Tough spot for the chancellor.


A DCPS Parent who Supports Change Now: Marc -- Kudos for pointing out how small opposition to the school plan is.

Given the Post's recent survey showing strong popular support for Fenty and Rhee's actions the schools, why does he Post continue to tell the same "opposition" story like today's "Parents Slam School Plan" using the same three or four voices from the Coalition to Save Our Schools?

What is this group trying to save -- dilapidated buildings, consistent failure to make Adequate Yearly Progress, staff who yell at kids daily in poorly managed cafeterias?

Marc Fisher: I have no problem with parents trying to save their kids' school or neighbors who worry that their local school will turn into a mothballed building that attracts vandals and vagrants. But unfortunately, much of the anti-closings crowd consists of people who naturally gravitate to the opposite side of any issue on which the mayor and other elected officials have taken a position. This is the same crowd that fought the baseball stadium, the convention center, downtown development, and the charter schools. And yes, I agree that they are overcovered, which is a credit to their organizing talents.


Omaha, Neb. (D.C. resident on vacation in Omaha!!): Marc, how do you respond to Marc Borbery's (pasted below)comment to your article this morning and especially to the idea that the closings are not about improving education for the DCPS students but really about providing opportunities to area developers?

Marc: You failed to mention the People's Meeting at the Wilson Building. That's where the opposition gathered, in protest of the sham hearings. (Hearings? How can Rhee and Fenty be at 23 places at once to do any "hearing"? Why would someone want to talk to a low-level bureaucrat who has nothing to do with the school closing decisions?)

There's still been no critical media coverage of the Fenty/Rhee claims that this will save $23.7 million. Turns out this was a miscalculation. It's closer to $4 million in savings, when you factor in the expected $9 million (1,000) lost to charter schools as a result of the closings. That's the expectation of the administration's contractors.

$4 million. That translates to $33,000 at each of 120 schools. Wow.

This isn't about saving money or improving DCPS. It's all about moving public school children OUT of buildings, so developers and private charter schools can move IN.

Posted by: Marc Borbely - January 17, 2008 10:33 PM

Marc Fisher: It's sad to see the important debate over how to improve the city's schools devolve into fact-free tirades about the city giving school properties to developers. In fact, the mayor has repeatedly said that there are no plans to sell off the schools that will be closed. I personally believe that the shuttered schools that are downtown, such as Stevens Elementary, should be sold to the highest bidder, with the receipts going to the DCPS capital fund. But I've not heard anyone in any official capacity talk about selling off neighborhood schools, mainly because various other arms of the District government can use those spaces--as can the charter schools, which continue to grow rapidly.


8th Street NW, D.C.: In your blog entry this morning, you missed one thing that happened at the Garnet-Patterson hearing last night. Near the end, a number of parents and teachers from Garnet-Patterson came to testify. They said that they had gotten a call at 5:00 p.m. saying that DCPS had decided to keep Shaw open, but close Garnet-Patterson instead. They complained that they did not get the same chance that the Shaw proponents did to defend their school from closing!

While I like the idea of the rumor (thank you Jack Evans!) I have to consider it still unsubstantiated. The point is that the school closure process has been so murky that any preposterous rumor can gain credibility.

You must tell me: what makes you think that the Fenty/Rhee/Reinoso team will be any more successful that the previous decade of school leaders, starting with General Becton, who told us to shut up and let them alone while they fix the D.C. schools? D.C. School Closings: The Hearings ( Raw Fisher, Jan. 17)

Marc Fisher: I wasn't able to stay to the end of that hearing as I wanted to visit some others around town, but as I wrote earlier this hour, I did hear Jim Graham speak to exactly the point (or rumor) that you're talking about.

It sounds like a legitimate fear, and I'm not surprised to hear that Garnet's supporters hurried out to make a last-minute stand for their school. Good for them. But if Garnet does survive this, man, does that place need some investment in infrastructure!

As for how Fenty/Rhee differ from all those reform efforts that came before them, I think we have to give them credit for a quick start including an impressive construction campaign led by Allan Lew. That does not necessarily translate into classroom improvements, but this is the best start we've seen in a new schools administration in the 21 years I've been watching this system.


Mount Rainier, Md.: Mark,

Having moved a whole block and a half out of the District over the summer (from 11th NW and M) can I offer an "outsider's" perspective? As you have noted, the chancellor seems intent on actually doing the things that so many have said for so long needed to be done -- firing underperforming/non-performing staff and closing schools to realign resources. What I think has caught folks off guard is that she is actually DOING these things, not just talking about it. I suppose it falls in the category of be careful what you wish for.

I do believe that Chancellor Rhee is on the right track though. Einstien is famously quoted as saying that insanity is doing the same thing the same way over and over expecting a different result. Chancellor Rhee is doing different things a different way expecting different results. What could it possibly hurt to try? As long as the School Board doesn't sell off the schools once they are shuttered, the next administration can always reopen them.

Marc Fisher: Right--Rhee, like the mayor, is a dynamo intent on fast and furious change. That's not always the smartest or certainly the most diplomatic way to go, but it's certainly very much different from what the District is used to, and after so many years of failed reform efforts, it's worth a try.


Tenleytown, D.C.: I'm hoping against hope that Fenty and Rhee can pull this off, but I'm afraid Rhee's lack of pertinent experience will continue to be a problem. And her associates don't seem to have been chosen for their expertise, either. I've been surprised over all at some of what I consider to be Mayor Fenty's missteps, and he's an experienced politician. I'm sure Ms. Rhee means well, and there will be much rejoicing if she is successful, but I'm not optimistic t his is going to happen.

Marc Fisher: This is a field in which I've come to believe deep experience can be a liability. Rhee has already shown that being a total outsider to the city and its culture gives her a power and perceptiveness that let her say and do things that an insider never could. Her window of opportunity may therefore be fairly narrow--in another year, her "hey, I don't know or get this city's culture" shtick will lack credibility. But I'm encouraged to see how many people both inside and outside the system are cheering her on, even as they disagree with particular programs or policies.


Washington, D.C.:"This is the same crowd that fought the baseball stadium, the convention center, downtown development and the charter schools."

And at the same time ignoring the results of these developments: jobs, a local economic boom. That statement irks me because it seems like half the city still wants to live like it's the 1980s.

It's time to move on. I work closely with DCPS since I work in a special ed law firm, and Rhee and Fenty are doing us a favor by closing some of these schools down. Awful school conditions, deteriorating grades, lack of adequate teachers, and overall...just a really bad schooling experience.

Marc Fisher: Yes, a bad school experience, but that's not the primary motivation here--if you were picking the schools to close based on the worst experiences for kids, you'd have come up with a rather different list. This was done in a much smarter fashion, focusing on geography, demographics and building status.


Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: There's not much question of "if" schools will be closed, so I'll take that as read. My concern is that these properties will be shuttered and essentially vacant. Living in the outer reaches of the Hill, there are constant issues with both crime and quality-of-life type stuff on the grounds of existing, functioning DCPS facilities. I fear that as Rhee's plan proceeds, neighborhoods will be left with buildings that are empty 24 hours a day, attracting a variety of negative elements, and decaying property. This will, no doubt, become an issue that is forced upon the community/police and not even remotely on the radar at this point.

Marc Fisher: That strikes me as a legitimate fear. While the city claims it will make good use of the closed buildings, I find it very hard to believe that the D.C. government will be able to absorb 23 buildings and put them to efficient use in anything like a reasonable amount of time. This is the best reason I have heard to oppose so many closings all at once.


Old City, Ill.: Hate to point out the obvious, but the way Fenty-Rhee have handled the school closings is 'intended' to exclude parental involvement, for the most part. Parents are the most involved party -- far too involved to make these decisions. The exact same scenario played itself out in the '80s in Montgomery County (and I'm sure other suburban school districts). The only chance of succeeding with school closings is to rush it through and deliver a fait accompli. More power to them.

Marc Fisher: Well, yes and no. I agree that doing the closings quickly is the best and only way to make sure that they really do happen. And I abhor the administration's embrace of the trendy new style of public hearings that both Williams and Fenty have been foisting on the city--it's also gaining favor in the suburbs, in both Virginia and Maryland--in which rather than have each citizen address all their fellow citizens, paid "facilitators" force the public to sit at round tables in groups of 10 and talk to one another. That's the real divide and conquer tactic going on these days. But I do have to credit the schools folks with holding a long series of meetings all around the District, over the course of more than a month.


Washington, D.C. Parent: Although I keep seeing questions from people wondering how the schools were picked, the Post had a lengthy article a few days ago which detailed the huge gap in capacity and enrollment in every one of the 23 schools. While I understand the loyalty to neighborhood schools, the 23 are very clearly financial drains on the system and should be closed. It is nearly impossible to make any other reasonable case. Close them and use the money elsewhere. Hearing on School Closings Is Long and Emotional ( Post, Jan. 15)

Marc Fisher: Sounds right to me. People can argue ad infinitum which schools to close--and there were many more candidates than the 23 that ended up on the list--but I've not heard anyone argue that it makes sense to run the same number of school buildings for 49,000 kids as we had when the system taught 150,000 kids.


Washington, D.C.: I was relieved to see your coverage of this issue, Marc, because I agree with earlier comments that the Post has given far too much coverage to the protesters, and makes it seem like the majority of parents are up in arms. As a DCPS parent, I have e-mailed Post reporters, and the Ombudsman to complain about this slanted coverage. Their response is that they are simply covering an event, and the Fenty/Rhee supporters don't have any events of their own. The truth is, they could call involved parents and ask what our schools are doing without because of the drain of these underenrolled schools, e.g., guidance counselors, art teachers, foreign language, asst. principals, math and reading specialists, etc.

Thank you again for your unbiased coverage.

Marc Fisher: Thanks--you said it very well.


Washington, D.C.: Does Chancellor Rhee know the word out on the streets: sub-contractors are sabotaging the work of other sub-contractors? By making their rival look bad, they are hoping to win a work contract with the main contractor. There's a story of shoddy work that was done in a three- year-old school. The roof is leaking and the pipes are bursting. Why doesn't the District make contractors accountable for their work? Or at least expose their dirty dealings with the City.

Maybe Harriet (the Tax Lady) can donate some money to help renovated DCPS schools from her foreign bank account.

Marc Fisher: Thanks for this--sounds like you know some specifics. I'd be grateful if you would email me about what you know or how we can be in contact with you. Thanks.


NE D.C.: I'm baffled by the notion that not showing up to an open forum to voice one's concerns shows anyone anything beyond the fact that grown adults are still able to pout. Yes, Rhee is gearing up to make drastic changes; very business-like. Based on the past year, does it appear that Fenty and company are prone to bow to the wishes of a vocal minority? I applaud the introduction of a plan that's drastically different (and more financially sound) than what I've seen in the 15 years I've been living in the District. (I continue to chuckle when I see Barry trying to relive those days.)

I've seen estimates of savings from both ends of the spectrum. Is the ultimate goal of the consolidation to save money or to gain some (any) credibility for and education from the D.C. public school system? If so, how soon before there's an impact on the charter schools that have been allowed to populate through the city as an alternative?

Marc Fisher: I think the goals are as you put them--save money and gain credibility. That means taking resources saved by shutting down schools and pumping them into remaining schools. Even with a big deficit ahead, Rhee seems determined to focus any new programs at the schools that will be receiving kids from the closed schools, and that makes a lot of sense--that's about keeping and winning trust.


AU Park, Washington, D.C.: Dear Mark,

None of the schools in our neighborhood are scheduled for closing, but I can see why some parents are upset. I strongly disagree with the person from the Petworth neighborhood, who said that it is fine for kids of any age to walk a mile to school. Huh?

My younger daughter is in the sixth grade, and we live approximately 8 blocks away from her school. This is the first year that I have allowed her to walk home from school, and only if she is with friends. I simply cannot imagine having my 5-, 6-, and 7-year-old-child walking more than a couple of blocks to school, especially in an urban area like ours.

IMO, D.C. is highly irresponsible when it comes to providing transportation for younger students -- and DCPS SHOULD provide transportation for all children under 12 years old who live more than four blocks from the school.

Virtually everyone in our neighborhood drives his or her children to the elementary school and drops them off, but not everyone has the luxury of driving, nor should it be expected that parents either should drive or walk the kids to school. What is more, the D.C. school day starts relatively late (8:45 a.m.), which is fine by me, but I cannot help but think that it is a hardship for some working parents.

AU Park Mom

Marc Fisher: Well, sorry to sound like I've just crawled out of a Waltons show or something, but I fail to see any problem with kids walking a bunch of blocks to school. I walked a mile to school every day in The Bronx growing up, my kid walks half a mile to school every day in the District, and with obesity and sedentary lifestyles growing as national issues, it would be delightful to see more kids walking to school every day. In a city with an extensive train and bus system, it would be downright criminal to add a school bus network to the transportation mess.


Bethesda, Md.: I am a mentor at a NW DC High School and am also involved with my church's outreach efforts to a school in Anacostia. I can't believe that anyone who visits one of these 1/2 (or more!) empty schools can seriously oppose consolidation. Well, other than the pie-in-the-sky letter to the WP Editor a few weeks ago who said use the space for smaller classes and cultural enrichment but did not promise the billion or so dollars it would take to bring this about.

So the question becomes, how to do this fairly? I have to say, on the face of it, not closing any schools west of Rock Creek Park seems blatantly unfair. However, these schools may have larger classes and/or be in better repair than those slated for closing. Could you share your take on this? Thanks.

Marc Fisher: I have to side with Rhee on the Ward 3 issue. The chancellor says she has staffers who wanted her to close a school west of the park just as a symbolic gesture, to show that she wasn't playing favorites. She denounced that as the dumbest thing she'd ever heard, and I agree: The schools west of the park are the smallest and the most overcrowded in the system. To shut them down and leave open more of the remarkably empty facilities elsewhere in town would be foolish. But there are other steps that can and should be taken to make Washingtonians feel more comfortable about their kids going to school near their own homes, rather than having to trek across the city every day. The focus ought to be on creating strong, marquee programs that make parents sit up and take notice of schools in places other than Ward 3.


NE D.C. : The closing of schools is a sham job. This is a land grab. Why you ask I say this, Well for the last ten years the District has been marketed to singles and young adults. Remember the "D.C. living slogans and PR? At no time during this period has the D.C. government considered families. The cost of living has pushed families out of the city and this is how you come up with the low enrollment stats that Mayor Fenty and Rhee keep quoting from. D.C. has opened the door for developers in the last ten years and have to deliver on all the contributions they have taken. Do you really think if the city can sell the land for closing a school to a developer to build over priced single family homes or condos they won't sell the land?

Marc Fisher: Yes, I really think--and in fact this is knowable truth, because it's been layed out in public documents--that the city has and will continue to say no to developers who propose to buy school properties. That's not to say that they should and will always say no--some schools really ought to be sold because they are downtown, where there will never again be a large community of school-age children. But others are in residential areas that could well again become home for families with children, and the city should hold on to those properties. But even there, there may be places where working with developers, large tracts of land can be divided to get private investment for new public facilities. I'd love to see something like that happen on some of the big, sprawling campuses the city controls in nearly every ward.


Washington, D.C.: I am a parent of children in Ward 3 schools responding to the earlier posting suggesting that we somehow get more resources from the city: wrong. We get less. Most Ward 3 schools are overenrolled and don't get the "small school supplement" under the weighted student formula. Other than that, we get the same dollars per student. The reason our schools are functioning better than those across town are (1) parent involvement, and (2) parent dollars, which pay for supplemental staff and other resources that the District won't cover.

Marc Fisher: Exactly right--the myths about the Ward 3 schools that permeate the city are indeed disheartening. It would be great to see that same level of parent involvement spread to other parts of the city. I don't get the sense that that is high on Rhee's list of priorities--she talks about how there's no reason to expect greater parent involvement as long as parents are treated as the enemy, and she's right about that, but one way to change that is to build a corps of parents who refuse to be treated poorly by their principals.


Bailey's Crosswords, Va.: I "got out of Dodge" three years ago by marrying a good man and thereby managing a move from the D.C. projects to a much better life in the 'burbs. Thus I have some sympathy for parents, mostly single mothers, grandparents, aunties and others who are raising DCPS schoolchildren and genuinely do not have time or energy to take an activist role in the school closing controversy. However, you simply have to! It does seem as if some closings are inevitable, and I'm hopeful Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhee's efforts will bring about an improved system. If they don't, what then?

I always tried to make D.C. teacher and PTA meetings, when my kids were in schools with a PTA, Open Houses, and the like. I was usually among the 3 or 4 parents or caregivers present. While my kids current schools are by no means perfect, the fact that a lot more parents are involved keeps teachers and administrators on their toes and gives us a lot more confidence in their future.

Marc Fisher: Excellent point--as I said in the previous post, the mere presence of parents can make a huge difference in the way a principal runs a school and in the attitude and performance of its staff.


Washington, D.C.: Weather or no, it's my understanding that based on signups organizers were only expecting about 100 speakers total at the satellite meetings based on signups BEFORE the snow.

Marc Fisher: Right--the early signups were so light that it's clear the final turnout had little, if anything, to do with the snow event.


Washington, D.C.: I am a concerned resident and active supporter of Michelle Rhee and her team. I find it interesting that so many people demand change, but the moment it affects them, they're no longer strong advocates. How can we move forward with reforming such a broken system if there is such resistance to any major reform efforts? Granted, for as much grumbling as there has been, I find it interesting how low the turnout was at the 23 meetings -- weather aside.

Marc Fisher: In fact, there really isn't that much resistance. That's the lesson from last night and from the process as a whole. The number that speaks far more loudly than the measly turnout of 400 people last night is the large majority of D.C. residents who said in the Post Poll last weekend that they support Fenty and Rhee's reform efforts and that they consider the schools to be the city's #1 problem.


Silver Spring, Md.:

As the owner of an old house I know how expensive it can be to try to keep old buildings going. That's why the proposals to close and consolidate some D.C. school facilities seem reasonable. Running a school at 20-30 percent capacity is wasteful and they don't seem to do it very well anyway.

Are these just sessions for the inevitable protests or do the parents groups have some reasonable alternatives proposed?

Marc Fisher: It's a mix--at the schools where there was a decent turnout, the activists present often did have good ideas about rejiggering the closings proposal or about how to save particular programs or advantages of their schools. But I was dismayed to find that even where there was some measurable turnout last night, there were precious few actual parents in attendance. Rather, the meetings seemed dominated by neighborhood political activists rather than the people who actually send kids to the schools.


A.U. Park, Washington, D.C.: I guess that I've had my say already on the DCPS transportation issue, but I cannot believe that most parents feel comfortable letting their small children walk several blocks to school alone (or with other small children). You said that you felt like you sounded like someone out of the Waltons when you advocated kids walking to school. Well,in WaltonLand, I WOULD feel comfortable sending my kids off on foot. But this is an urban area with lots of dangers for children. Am I the only person who thinks this way?

AU Park Mom

Marc Fisher: You're far from alone in that view. In all likelihood, it's my view that's the minority position. In this highly safety-conscious society, the idea of letting kids walk to school has come to be associated with handing them over to the boogeyman.


Washington, D.C.: Marc, What do you know about D.C. Children First, a group that is forming to oppose those who support the status quo (i.e., the unions)? The Chair of the Board is former mayor Anthony Williams.

Marc Fisher: It's sad to see the former mayor setting up shop with a group that seems determined to spread the pernicious voucher program that Congress foisted on the District. That group--there's more about them here:

seems designed largely to lobby for more vouchers and more tax dollars for religious institutions.


Marc Fisher: That kicks things in the head for today. Thanks for coming along. The regular edition of Potomac Confidential returns at the usual time next Thursday at noon. And a new audio show, Raw Fisher Radio, premieres here on the big web site Tuesday at noon; it will be a weekly faceoff between newsmakers on top issues in the region. I'd be honored if you gave it a listen (there'll be a podcast available for those who can't join us at noon.)

The column's back in the paper Sunday and the blog is always on. Have a good weekend.


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