D.C. school board member Frank Shaffer-Corona has been making telephone calls at board expense to the Iranians holding American hostages in Tehran in an apparent effort to mediate the standoff personally, board President R. Calvin Lockridge disclosed last night.
Lockridge and other board members said they are not only angered that the calls are being billed to the school board, but greatly concerned that Shaffer-Corona's attempts at long distance diplomacy might be jeopardizing U.S. attempts to negotiate the hostages' release.
Shaffer-Corona refused last night to confirm or deny that he had made the calls. According to board member Carol L. Schwartz, she and other members confronted Shaffer-Corona two weeks ago about the Tehran calls, and he acknowledged at that time that he had made them.
Schwartz said Shaffer-Corona told the other members that the calls were "in the national interest" and that therefore it was appropriate that they be paid for out of school board funds.
"I think it's appalling," Schwartz said last night of the calls. She said she told Shaffer-Corona: "your politics are your business . . . I just don't think that we should be paying for it."
Schwartz also said that she is out-[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] she told Shaffer-Corona: "Your poli[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] pear to be concentrated on trying to win the release of only two Chicanos and an American Indian being held at the embassy. Shaffer-Corona, who is of part-Mexican ancestry, refers to himself here as a leader of the Latino community and commonly identifies himself in official correspondence as "the first Chicano elected to statewide office on the East Coast."
In a letter addressed to the Ayatollah Khomeini that he delivered to the Iranian Embassy here last December, Shaffer-Corona says that "Chicanos have lived under the yoke of U.S. imperialism," and adds that Iranians and Chicanos "as fellow victims of U.S. greed and racism . . . must stand together."
Board members said they became aware that Shaffer-Corona was making the calls when a phone company telephone operator called Superintendent Vincent Reed to ask if it were permissible for Shaffer-Corona to be calling Tehran. Reed told the operator that he had no power to stop board members from telephoning wherever they wish.
Board sources said Shaffer-Corona has telephoned the embassy in Tehran at least three times in the last two weeks and each time spoken for about 30 mintues. One source said that Shaffer-Corona allowed him to listen to a tape recording of one of the calls during which Shaffer-Corona told the Iranians that the hostage-taking incident is much like a "backgammon game." The Iranian on the other end of the line merely replied, "We want the shah! We want the shah!" the source said.
Lockridge said last night that the board has not received the bills for the calls and that he could not estimate how much they might have cost.
Schwartz and Lockridge also said they were upset other several earlier calls made from Shaffer-Corona's home to Mexico that he charged to the school board. One of those calls amounted to $141, according to phone records.
Shaffer-Corona has said a member of his staff had made that call from his home to him while he was in Mexico last July with the D.C. Youth Chorale and that it was "perfectly legitimate." He said he made other calls to Mexico himself to discuss "cultural and educational exchange programs" between the U.S. and that country.
In a memo to Schwartz, board counsel James E. Brown advised that while Shaffer-Corona's calls to Tehran do not "rise to the level of criminal culpability," the board could instruct the telephone company that it will not pay for certain calls, or it could initiate civil action to "recover funds allegedly expended in an improper manner."
A State Department spokesman said last night that he personally had helped Shaffer-Corona telephone Tehran "five or six times" after department officials had given the board member permission to try to contact the embassy there shortly before Christmas. Recently, the spokesman said, the State Department has asked Shaffer-Corona to stop placing calls to the embassy, "because it is getting to be a rather sensitive time."
The spokesman said he did not think the State Department would be willing to pay for the calls.