Declaring that his two principal opponents in the mayoral race had "abdicated" their responsibilities to Washington's public school children, D.C. Councilman Marion Barry said yesterday that he could get the city's youths "off this treadmill of failure" in education.
Surrounded by 20 giggling children brought out from their summer day camp activities at the Marie H. Reed Elementary School near 18th and California streets NW for the hour-long press conference, Barry said he could improve the city's school system without substantially increasing its $232 million budget.
In a sharp attack on his two frontrunning opponents, Council Chairman Sterling Tucker and Mayor Walter E. Washington, Barry accused them of engaging in "debilitating nonsense" while the city's school children suffered.
"The Washington-Tucker administration has totally abdicated any sense of responsibility for the welfare and education of our young people," Barry said. "They have been content to idly watch the buckpassing back and forth between parents to teachers to Board of Education to local elected officials to Congress" allowing school children "to be cheated" of a meaningful education.
Barry said if he is elected mayor he would work with the school board to:
Create two new city high schools, one for business and commerce and another for training in construction and industrial skills. The schools would "provide special" training, he said."for out majority black student population to prepare for careers in areas which have traditionally been closed to blacks and other minorities."
Coordinate activities of the Human Resources Department, which Barry said delivers social services to 56 percent of the city's 120,000 students, and other city departments with the school system.
Start frequent public progress reports from the school board to his office and hold "town hall" meetings to discuss these reports with parents, teachers and the general public.
Expand the city's office of child development and reorient the 90 city-funded day-care centers away from what Barry described as "babysitting" custodial care to early childhood education centers.
Convene a panel of experts to examine the $62 million teachers retirement fund and study new avenues of Investment to raise the current 5 percent level of interest it now earns.
Barry said he would also back a pending legislative proposal to raise the annual payment to each of the 11 members of the school board from $4,000 to $17,500.
When asked where the money would come from, Barry responded, "Don't worry about it. (The money) is there (in the school budget). There is a lot of fat in there and I cut 10 percent of the administrative staff when I was president of the school board. There was no (adverse) affect."
In campaign appearances, Barry has stressed his past presidency of the school board and told black audiences he supported a return to the days when blacks were told "we have to work three times as hard (in school) to be considered half as good as whites."
He has also made reference to a series in The Washington Post on Eastern High School. Barry tells his listeners he "was not shocked" by the information in the series on Eastern.
When Barry was on the school board, he voted to hire controversial school superintendent Barbara Sizemore. Sizemore, after a two-year acrimonious fight with the school board, was eventually fired in 1975. Barry had left the board and was elected to the City Council in 1974.
Mayoral candidate Tucker has previously attacked Barry's school board leadership as "the worst and most chaotic" of the history of the board.
Sherwood Ross, Tucker's campaign press officer, said Barry's campaign brochure. "Marion Barry - What He Stands For (And What He Won't Stand For), does not mention he was president of the school board from 1972 to 1974. "His record on the school board is an embarrassment to him," said Ross.
Mayor's campaign manager, Lacy Streeter, in a lengthy reply to Barry's criticisms, said, "We're surprised Mr. Barry would even raise the question regarding one's record." Steeter said Barry's time on the school board "was time of considerable turmoil, much of it due to his leadership or lack of it."