In the school board race in Ward 3, two of the three candidates are claiming support of the ward's City Council member and a lawsuit has been brought by one of the challengers in an attempt to keep the incumbent off the ballot.
It all adds up to a heated school board race that the candidates agree will affect far more than the schools in Ward 3, the most affluent and the only predominantly white ward in the city.
"The healthy survival of our city depends on our ability to attract middle-class taxpayers back to the District of Columbia," said incumbent Carol Schwartz, who is vice president of the current school board. "A viable school system is essential to (the survival of the city)."
Gwen Graham Reise, an unsuccessful city council candidate in 1972 who ran for the school board in 1973, and is running again this year, said, "This city, this country, this ward is only as good as the education it offers its children. We might as well stop paying taxes if all the children are going to go to private schools."
"Twenty per cent of the ward is over 65," said Ken Lange, a candidate who is a former education writer and a 1976 graduate of Antioch Law School. "If kids are getting a rigorous education they're not in the streets. The quality of life in the community will rise."
Lange and Schwartz both claim the private support of city councilwoman Polly Shackleton. Shackleton denies supporting anyone, either publicly or behind-the-scenes.
Lange has told voters that Shackleton has privately given him her support and he has made it known that Shackleton's campaign manager in her city council race three years ago is now his campaign coordinator.
Schwartz told a reporter that Shackleton has supported her work on the school board and has privately told her that she hopes Schwartz will continue to work for Ward 3.
But Shackleton said she has "made it clear to all of them that I'm taking no position on anybody. I'm not getting involved."
Despite claims to similar support by two of the candidates, all three of them have distinctive platforms that they are presenting at PTA meetings, on street corners and through flyers.
Lange, a lawyer with the Washington Area Council on Alcholism and Drug Abuse, is running his campaign under the banner of giving parents and politicians a greater voice in school operations.
If elected, Lange tells voters, he will seek added funds for the schools from private businesses in the city, which he argues are often overlooked as sources of money. Lange also contends that the school board could get more money from the city council and Capitol Hill if school board members make education a more visible political issue in the city throughout the year.
"I have no sympathy for 11th hour pleas for money from the school board," Lange said. "The school board should be making friends in the council and on the Hill every week. The school board should make education a popular issue in town. No politican would turn away from education if the issue were well presented to him."
Lange, who has been endorsed by the teachers union, also tells voters in one of the flyers he is distributing that "a school system must be geared to provide support so that the average, hard-working teacher can succeed. Teachers need success just as kids do."
Lange, who has been criticized by Schwartz for only registering to vote this year and having only four years residence here, is charging that Schwartz "has been derelict in providing the leadership to maker education attractive and interesting to people in Ward 3."
Reiss, who moved to the city five years ago after living in the suburbs for 20 years, is waging her campaign on the platform of "greater justification" by the school board for the money it spends and for the education it gives children.
"Everyone believes the system can be run on less money," said Reiss, "and they have no reason to believe otherwise. The children are not being educated and they (the school board) are not telling us what they plan to do to remedy the problem."
"I want principals held responsible for test scores," she said. "And principals can't be held responsible until they can select teaching teams and keep them in place. That's what I'll give them a chance to do. Then they'll have to justify the results."
Riess said she would like to do away, with junior highs, sending students through 8th grade in elementary schools.
Reiss criticized both Lange and Schwartz. She called Lange "a babe in the woods. He is unknown and he doesn't know the system."
As for Schwartz, Reiss said: "She has not moved to change the system. She has dealt in a Band-aid approach, answering constituency calls and not attacking the large-scale problems."
Schwartz, who is running on "a record I am proud of," said the Band-aid criticism is unfair.
"I'd hardly consider firing a bad superintendent (Barbara Sizemore) and hiring a good one a Band-aid appoach," she said.
Schwartz, the mother of three children who attend Murch Elementary School, a public school, cites her part in hiring Superintendent Vincent Reed, and in helping to get a competency-based curriculum adopted for city schools as proof of her good work on the school board.
"Realistically or not, I'm proud of my record," she said. "When attacks are made on my record I don't feel vulnerable."
Schwartz, who personally paid for 500 red and white bumper stickers that read: "A.D.C. Public School Try It, You'll Like It," is a native Texan who came to Washington in 1966.
She said she thought of the bumper sticker idea in the early spring when she was considering not running for re-election because "the $4,000 annual reimbursement for expenses and the 30-60 hour work weeks have meant both a family and financial sacrifice.
Schwartz said she did not win the teacher's union endorsement because she has not supported pay raises for teachers and has urged that teachers be given competency tests. She also opposes tenure for teachers.
"With tenure a teacher could sit in class till he or she died," she said. "And even then no one would notice."
As the incumbent, and vice president of the school board, Schwartz is considered the favorite in the race.
Unlike the other two ward 3 school board candidates, Schwartz said she is considering running for the city council in the future.
Last month Schwartz' place on the school board election ballot was challenged by Reiss who argued that one of the persons circulating Schwartz nominating petitions was not a registered voter.
The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics ruled in Schwartz' favor recently but Reiss appealed the decision to the D.C. Court of Appeals.
"I wish my opponent would drop this ludicrous suit," said Schwartz. "It is unbelievable. She is a troublemaker."
Reiss also attempted to have Susan Truitt, a candidate for the city council in last June's special election to fill Julius Hobson's vacant seat, taken off the ballot for the same reason. She failed. Reiss was not a candidate in that election, but was coordinator of volunteers for Hilda Mason, a former school board member who won the election.