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  •   Incumbent Loses Bid for School Board

    D.C. Results
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    see general election results for the District.

    By Jay Mathews
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, November 4, 1998; Page A37

    Sandra Butler-Truesdale, the only incumbent D.C. Board of Education member seeking reelection, lost her bid yesterday as voters filled five seats on the 11-member board.

    Dwight E. Singleton, 35, a U.S. Postal Service manager serving as PTA president at Truesdell Elementary School, collected 52 percent of the vote, with Butler-Truesdale, 58, a distant second at 28 percent for the board seat representing Ward 4.

    In turning against Butler-Truesdale, voters appeared to be rejecting the board's troubled history in favor of a new approach. Two years ago, the D.C. financial control board stripped the panel of its oversight powers after declaring the city's public schools in a state of crisis.

    But a week ago, the control board agreed to return to the board some powers – specifically oversight of discipline and facilities – and said it would prepare a plan for full restoration of power by June 2000. Educators in the District have declared this campaign the most important since D.C. voters were first given the right to elect a school board three decades ago.

    In other school board races, 51-year-old Gail Dixon, a special events coordinator and part-time staff member at the University of the District of Columbia, won a tight race with community activist and part-time teacher Robert "Bob" Artisst, 64, for the only open at-large seat on the board. Dixon garnered 25 percent of the vote; Artisst had 22 percent, according to the results.

    In Ward 8, teacher and community outreach coordinator William Lockridge, 49, captured 78 percent to 20 percent over his only opponent, 33-year-old education consultant Jeff Canady. Westy Byrd, 42, a former Advisory Neighborhood Commission commissioner, won in Ward 2, with 51 percent of the vote in a six-candidate field.

    The school board race in Ward 7 was closer, with former D.C. school principal Tom Kelly, 63, winning with 33 percent. His closest competitors were consultant Herbert A. Boyd Jr., 46, with 22 percent, and U.S. Department of Transportation program analyst Bernardyne E. Williams, 49, with 20 percent.

    The new members will join a board that not only has been virtually powerless for the last two years but also has been held in low regard for many years before that, with chronic low student performance and troubled management of the system.

    Some current board members argued that they helped initiate many useful changes in the schools and that the board does not deserve its bad reputation. But they were unable to improve student achievement, which remains far below national levels, and they have spent much of their time blaming a succession of superintendents, or each other, for the failures.

    In November 1996, the presidentially appointed D.C. financial control board stripped the school board of most of its power, cut the salaries of its members from $30,000 to $15,000 a year, and appointed a trustees board to help oversee the school system. The only power the school board retained was the authority to grant charters to groups seeking to start public charter schools – and they will continue to do that.

    This year, four of the five incumbents up for reelection decided not to run. The one incumbent who did, Butler-Truesdale, had served two four-year terms, and Singleton, who defeated her, said last night that she "did serve our schools well, but there is a new challenge put before us, and we have to find more effective ways to lead our schools."

    In his campaign, Singleton said his experience as a volunteer mentor and teacher's assistant at his son's school convinced him of the need to raise D.C. teachers' salaries – now the lowest in the area – to attract talented instructors and to keep those already in the system.

    But first, he said, "we must get the agenda of the board off the ground and make the board functional."

    School board President Wilma R. Harvey (Ward 1) said last night that she was looking forward to working with the new members. She had earlier expressed concern that many of the candidates did not have sufficient experience, but she said last night that she believes the winners will serve the city well.

    To help meet that goal, she said, she plans to set up training for all school board members, so they can better understand the role of such panels and how members can work together more effectively than they have in the past.

    "I think that is essential," Harvey said. "I'm pleased that the citizens of the District of Columbia engaged in the most important school board race since home rule. And I think that the new board members, along with the sitting board, has a major challenge before us, so we can really be able to return to full authority."

    Byrd, winner in the Ward 2 balloting, said she thought it was important that the board "work with [School Superintendent Arlene] Ackerman, and with the principals, the teachers and the parents." As for repairing the board's reputation, "I think success will breed success," she said.

    Kelly, the new Ward 7 school board member, said his top priority would be to fix the dysfunctional special education system in the District.

    The control board, in addition to returning some oversight powers to the board last week, also promised to provide more office space and administrative staff for the panel. Control board officials said they hope the school board and the trustees will work together more closely in the months ahead.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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