Mayor Marion Barry's proposal to cut school spending by $10 million and his private backing of a slate of condidates has electrified the race for six seats on the D.C. Board of Education in the Nov. 6 election.
The poor performance of students and lack of confidence in the city's public schools are still the major concerns of the 14 men and 10 women vying for five ward seats and one atlarge post.
With the election three weeks away, candidates are talking about educational issues -- ranging from long range comprehensive planning and parent responsibility to standardized promtional practices for students and more accountability on the part of teachers.
But because of efforts by Barry and other city politicians to field slates or broker their own political power through endorsements, the campaign is highly politicized.
A concern among some candidates is that so many previous school board members have used the board as a launching pad for higher political office.
"Having someone who's going to stay on the board for a change and serve a full term is an issue," Ward 4 candidate Phil Pannell said.
Conflicts among school board members, highlighted during the 23-day teachers strike earlier this year, intensified a growing mood in some parts of the city to vote out all the incumbents and start over with a new board.
"I would be less than candid if I said there is not a feeling in the city that we should get rid of the (incumbent) school board," said one City Council member who is supporting a slate of school board hopefuls. "That's not the only reason I'm in this race. But from a political standpoint, it certainly makes it easier for you to stick your neck out to support X, Y or Z against an incumbent."
Incumbents like Conrad P. Smith in Ward 1 do not sense that having been on the board is a major liability. "There is that attitude of throw the whole school board out.It's an attitude of frustration, "Smith said. "But that's a minority."
Bare-bones budgets add to the value of endorsement by elected officals who bring with them proven campaign workers. Barry, who is actively trying to build a political organization and broaden his base, is considered to have more workers than most.
Unlike many other contests, the at-large race seems to be one of the least heated, according to many political observers. Incumbent Eugene Kinlow, 39, elected only five months ago to fill the vacancy created when Betty Ann Kane was elected to the City Council, is running against four contenders.
They are: teacher Jeanette Feely, 45, from Northwest Washington, who has been endorsed by the Washington Teachers Union; budget analyst Charlotte R. Holmes, 52, of Capitol Hill, who came in third in the special May 1 school board election; U.S. Labor Party organizer Stuart Rosenblatt, a veteran of several unsuccessful campaigns for city office, and Joseph Webb, 29, an adult education coordinator who was also a candidate in the May 1 contest.
Incumbent Conrad P. Smith, a 47-year-old lawyer, and urban planner Frank Smith Jr., 37 -- who are not related -- are considered the front runners in the race to represent Ward 1, which includes the Adams-morgan, Mount Pleasant and Cardozo sections of the city. The three other candidates in that race are: contractor James W. Curry, Metro mechanic Anwar Saleem, 25, and Reginald H. Booker, community activist.
Even though he has not been formally endorsed by the mayor, Frank Smith is considered the Barry candidate because many of the mayor's key supporters in the ward are working for him. "After that $10 million cut in the school budget, I don't know if his endorsement would help me," Frank Smith said earlier this week. He has also been endorsed by the teachers union.
Linda W. Cropp, a 32-year-old high school counselor, is considered the Barry candidate in Ward 4, which includes most of affluent upper Northwest Washington. Cropp, who has been endorsed by the teachers union, also has Barry supporters working in her campaigh. Her husband Dwight is the mayor's executive secretary. Linda Cropp says she is her own person, but her opponents disagree.
"Right now, the issue is control," said Laplois Ashford, 45, executive director of the Southeast Neighborhood House and one of Cropp's opponents. "The issue is whether we're going to have the same kind of nepotism in political choices as we see in our school system in social promotions for students."
Candidate Phil Pannell, 29, program director of the Howard University Center for Sickle Cell Disease, said he has no problem with the idea of Barry building a political organization, but adds of Cropp, "I don't think people in Ward 4 want a puppet."
Victoria T. Street, a 62-year-old retired teacher, thinks the major problem facing the schools is budget cuts.
The race in Ward 6, which includes Capitol Hill, near Northeast and some parts of Anacostia, is considered primarily a showdown between incumbent John Warren, who has the support of the teachers union, and Lorraine Bennett, 37, a former PTA chairman, considered Barry's candidate.
The other Ward 6 candidate is community worker Linda Gilbert, 30, who considers apathy a major problem in the city's school system.
Lawyer Matthew F. Shannon, a special assistant to the mayor, is running in Ward 5. He dropped out of the City Council race last year after being injured in an automobile accident. His ward includes most of upper Northeast Washington. He is challenging incumbent Bette Benjamin. Many Barry supporters are among Shannon's campaign workers. The teachers union endorsed Benjamin for reelection.
Virgil Thompson, who ran unsuccessfully for the City Council from the Ward 5 last year, is also running for the school board seat. Observers consider Benjamin and Shannon the front runners.
Some consider the school board contest in Ward 7, which includes far Northeast and Southeast Washington, to be a face-off between Barry, whose workers are supporting 30-year-old lawyer Nate Bush, and Council member Willie J. Hardy, who has endorsed Edward L. Hancock, 57, a toolmaker at the Naval Ordnance Labratory. Incumbent Minnie S. Woodson, the current board president, is not running for reelection.
Emily Y. Washington, a 35-year-old teacher from Ballou High School, might also be a major contender, some observers say. The fourth candidate in the race is America Crew Nelson, a retired teacher. The teachers union is supporting Bush.