Over the past week, the vice president of the D.C. school board, Barbara Lett Simmons, announced she was resigning from most of her duties as a board member because the new board president R. Calvin Lockridge, is "hateful, disdainful and contemptuous."
She also complained he had not appointed her to a chairmanship of one of the board's committees.
Yesterday, a special task force of the board voted to demand that at-large member Frank Shaffer-Corona reimburse the school system for $700 worth of phone calls he has made to Mexico in the past year and to the U.S. Embassy in Tehran last month during futile efforts to negotiate the release of Chicago hostages there -- and to sue him if he does not pay.
Lockridge, on Thursday, ordered the board's copying machine to be kept under lock and key to keep Shaffer-Corona from making at night thousands of copies of articles written about him and position papers he wrote on the Iranian crisis and which he has been sending all over the city.
Shaffer-Corona, meanwhile, is miffed because colleagues have refused to approve his request for a round-trip airplane ticket from Beirut to Tehran. The board would not have to worry about the trip from Washington to Beirut. Shaffer-Corona said, because "the Palestinians" would pay that.
Around the D.C. school board, where old wounds fester for years and new ones seem to crop up daily, these are just a few recent additions to the pattern of personal feuds and bitter infighting that many observers say keeps the board from solving the problems of the school system.
"I think, oftentimes, this infighting is an excuse to avoid dealing with the really tough issues" said board member Alaire Rieffel.
While board members are in contention over committee chairmanships, international phone calls and use of the copier, the school system is being sued in federal court by parents of handicapped children who allege their youngsters have not been placed in appropriate programs.
The board -- of committees of board members -- has met four times to discuss Shaffer-Corona's phone calls. That is more times than they have met to discuss what to do about a $28 million budget deficit the schools superintendent has projected for this school year.
Bickering often delays that board's regular monthly meetings as well. And the meetings often turn into shouting matches.
At the last meeting members argued for more than an hour over what would be the "proper procedure" for handling recommendations proposed by a board subcommittee to help straighten out the system's tangled special education programs.
"They never even discussed the recommendations themselves," complained Rieffel.
Pat Morris, president of the D.C. Congress of Parent Teacher Associations, says she "hates" to attend board meetings. "I just want to tell them sometimes to shut up and get on with the work."
Public television films portions of board meetings and some board observers believe that promotes "grandstanding."
"I remember one meeting in October," Morris recalled, "when the TV cameras were on, they were good as gold. As soon as the cameras went off they started with the bickering and snide remarks."
Simmons resigned from her committee assignments after she had gone through the board's files last week and dug out a memo Lockridge had written to then-board president Conrad Smith. Lockridge informed Smith in the memo that he was refusing to work on any board committees because Smith had not given him the assignments he had asked for.
Most of the boards work gets done in committee. The panels handle such areas as the budget, educational programs, school closings, school construction and repairs.
Simmons merely changed the date on the 1978 Lockridge memo to Smith, crossed out Smith's name on the top and addressed the memo to Lockridge. She wrote her name in place of Lockridge's.
Simmons has said Lockridge would "make a marvelous dictator in a totalitarian country." Lockridge in turn insists Simmons tried to subvert his first major initiative as board president and that is why he did not appoint her to a chairmanship. "Barbara's problem is that she wants to run everything," Lockridge asserted.
As for Shaffer-Corona, Lockridge says "he's just like a disruptive student."
"I resent as a board member having to spend time on these petty details," said member Carol Schwartz. "But for the most part we end up doing the work of the board. The board's work gets done. It just means a lot of time and energy is spent on petty issues."