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14 Vie for Two School Board Seats

By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 24, 1996; Page J01

How things have changed in the two years since the last campaign for an at-large seat on the D.C. Board of Education.

In 1994, debate over critical issues facing the city's schools was overshadowed by personal attacks among candidates. But there is little of that in the campaign for two at-large seats open in the Nov. 5 general election. They are being vacated by board President Karen Shook and member Valencia Mohammed.

Instead of blasting each other, the 14 candidates are aiming criticism at the current 11-member school board and Superintendent Franklin L. Smith -- whose contract expires in June -- for failing to improve a school system plagued by declining test scores, high truancy rates and crumbling buildings. Most of the candidates said the most pressing issues are management and accountability, though they have different ideas about how to improve the city's 158 schools.

Following are introductions to the candidates, in the order that they appear on the ballot:

ROBERT G. CHILDS, 41, pastor at Berean Baptist Church in Northwest, has worked for 18 years as a volunteer in Northeast D.C. schools and has children in city schools. As a school board member, he said, he would assess how money is being spent because "what we are seeing is not a lack of resources but how those resources are being managed."

Accordingly, he said, he would not retain Smith as superintendent. Childs also said he would support private management of D.C. public schools and consider closing some schools to save money. He opposes a voucher system that would provide students with public money to use for tuition at private schools.

JESSE BATTLE, 44, a job developer for D.C. Change Inc., said he has been involved in city politics for two decades, serving as an advisory neighborhood commissioner, organizing political campaigns and running for city council. He said he advises students and is running because "of the seriousness of the situation" in the schools.

Battle said that as a board member he would "advocate the idea that we are moving into a global world." He said Smith should not be retained as superintendent, and he opposes private school management and the establishment of "charter" schools, which are funded by public dollars but run independently of the school board.

ROBERT "BOB" ARTISST, 62, is an associate professor of education at Marymount University who taught for 25 years at the University of the District of Columbia. He has been a community and Democratic Party activist for more than three decades.

Artisst, who has children in D.C. public schools, said the school board has given Smith "too much carte blanche" to run the system. He would not retain Smith.

As a board member, he would establish new guidelines to govern the board and seek an accounting from Smith on the budget. Artisst opposes vouchers, charter schools and private management of public schools. Though he fought in 1994 to keep open Taft and Backus junior high schools, he said he would support closing schools to save money.

LAWRENCE A. "LARRY" GRAY, 48, an educational video producer, has been involved with area schools for more than six years, serving as a citywide PTA officer, mentoring students and performing other activities. He was executive assistant to board member Bernard Gray (Ward 6) (no relation) for two years.

Gray said his top priority as a board member would be to address basic safety and health issues, which he blames the school board for failing to tackle. He would opt to have Smith finish out his contract and then leave. He opposes vouchers, but supports charter schools. He opposes privatization of school management but could support a different arrangement.

ROMAINE BELL THOMAS, who would not give her age, taught for several decades at D.C. public schools. She said she has "deep concern" about the city schools, which her grandchildren attend.

Thomas praised the city's teachers but said: "We have lost faith and confidence in terms of delivery and service to children. . . . [There is] insufficient direction, oversight and systematic follow-up" to problems.

As a board member, she said she would first review the management structure and hire a team to help Smith. Abruptly dismissing him before his contract expires would, she said, "create another disaster." Thomas opposes school vouchers and private management of schools but supports charter schools. She would close some schools under certain conditions.

ANTONIO JEROME WHITE, 41, is associate director of a nonprofit self-help organization and president of Emergency Bill Payers and Business Handlers. He is running for office, he said, because he has two children in D.C. public schools and believes the city's schoolchildren "are being neglected."

White said that as a board member he would define the responsibilities of the board because members don't have a "clear idea of what they are supposed to do." He said he would visit successful private schools and "find out what they are doing and emulate it."

He opposes school vouchers, private school management and closing more D.C. schools to save money. He supports charter schools.

White said he served four years in prison for a 1987 conviction on charges of conspiracy to sell drugs. Since then, he said, he has changed his life, earning bachelor's and master's degrees. He said he "helps out" political extremist Lyndon LaRouche's group but is not a member.

CARLENE THOMPSON, who did not give her age, has been a volunteer in local organizations such as the PTA since the early 1970s. With three children who either have been or are in the public schools, Thompson called the school system "one of the best" in the country, but said it lacks funding.

She said the first thing she would do as a board member is to stop educators from labeling children. "Many children are labeled before they have a chance, categories like special ed," she said. "They are going to live the label you put on them."

Thompson said she opposes tuition vouchers. She would support some school closings if "absolutely necessary" and said charter schools can be successful.

KIM J. PERRY, 32, is director of the Missionary and Evangelistic Center of the Church of the Living God in Southeast and tutors D.C. schoolchildren who lack reading and writing skills. She is running, she said, because "we found out that kids are not prepared."

Perry said the biggest problem in the school system is "gross negligence, gross miseducation and callous disregard" for children. As a board member, she would examine the curriculum and the budget to better track how the system's top managers are performing.

Perry said Smith should not be retained. She opposes vouchers, private school management and any plan to close more schools to save money. She supports charter schools.

DANIEL HARRISON, 50, is chief of the Office for Higher Education and Park Initiatives for the National Park Service. With two children in D.C. public schools, he has served as a PTA cluster president and on former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly's task force on education.

He is running, he said, because his skills as a budget analyst can help the school system. The first thing he would do as a board member, he said, is determine how funds are spent. He also said private money can be raised to help the schools.

Smith should be replaced, he said. Harrison opposes vouchers and private management, but supports charter schools and would close some public schools if necessary to save money.

LOIS "LEA" ADAMS, 49, a communications consultant, is running for school board because "citizens have a right to assume that people will enter our education system and come out the other side smarter." Adams graduated from D.C. public schools; her college-age son briefly went to John Eaton Elementary School and then to St. Albans. She said as a board member she would hold a 30-day public hearing to find out what residents want the school board to do.

She said Smith should not retain his job. She opposes vouchers but supports charter schools, closing some schools if necessary and private school management if the companies are based in the District.

TONYA VIDAL KINLOW, 35, is an operations management fellow at NYLCARE Health Plans of the Mid-Atlantic and has worked in other posts, including as an aide to Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.). Kinlow has children in D.C. public schools, and she said her experience as a policy analyst can help improve the system. The biggest challenge, she said, is to improve student performance in the classroom.

The first thing Kinlow said she would do as a board member is to "correct some of the management problems we have downtown." She said she supports retaining Smith but not as the system's top manager. She opposes vouchers but supports closing some schools to save money, private school management and the idea of charter schools.

JOSEPH WEBB, 47, is the former principal of Armstrong Adult Education Center, which was closed in the spring by Smith for budgetary reasons. Webb, who lost his job in a reduction in force, said he is running to have a bigger say in school reform. He said he wants to be appointed superintendent of schools to replace Smith, whom he described as lacking "foresight, insight and clear vision."

The biggest responsibility that a school board has is to hire and oversee a superintendent, he said, and the first order of business is to replace Smith. He supports vouchers as well as private school management and charter schools. He opposes closing more public schools to save money.

WANDA A. OATES, 54, has worked at Ballou High School for 31 years, teaching health and physical education and serving as the first female boys basketball coach in the area. Oates ran for school board two years ago and is running again to help stop what she called "the educational decline." To improve academic achievement, she said she would eliminate as much of the nonteaching bureaucracy as possible. She said she would fire Smith.

Oates was the only candidate to say that the powers of the school board should be diminished and that the D.C. financial control board should "take a more active role in school affairs because the school board presently is not doing its job."

Oates said she opposes vouchers but supports closing schools to save money, private management and charter schools.

SUNDAY ABRAHAM did not return phone calls and did not answer a Post questionnaire.

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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