The staff of the D.C. school board charged yesterday that it is "virtually impossible" for them to get any work done for the school system because of the "vulgar tirades . . . physical intimidation and verbal harassment" of staff members by some school board members.
The charges were outlined in an internal memo to the board members, signed by 14 of the 15 members of the board's central staff, including the attorney and acting executive secretary of the board, James E. Brown. A copy of the memo was obtained by The Washington Post yesterday.
"Staff morale has reached an all-time low at the Board of Education," the memo said. "It is virtually impossible for most staff members to get any work done during the normal business hours of 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. . . .
"When staff must work nights, weekends, whenever, wherever, and however they can find time and space at a distance from board members, the ensuing cost in overtime and compensatory time that must be paid does nothing but increase the overall operating expenses of the Board of Education," it said.
Although the memo gave specific examples of alleged harassment, the staff members stopped short of naming the board members involved.
However, sources said that of the 11 members of the board, the staff has had problems with Frank Shaffer-Corona, Barbara, Lett Simmons, John E. Warren, Carol Schwartz and board President R. Calvin Lockridge.
Most of the complaints involved Shaffer-Corona, who according to sources, twice unplugged a telephone receiver from the phone on the desk of the board's main receptionist and confiscated it because he was mad at him. As a result, board members were unable to receive incoming calls for more than a day, sources said.
Staff members said Shaffer-Corona also refused to give back the keys to the board's official car at one point and the staff had to get a new set made.
He also "confiscated" hundreds of board "action sheets -- memos that the board sends out to tell the public the official actions it has taken -- because they did not note that he had proposed removing Lockridge as board president, sources said.
Shaffer-Corona said he took the receptionist's phone receiver because he was "not pleased" with the receptionist's performance.He said he "might have" kept the keys to the board car, but could not remember when. He also said that he had locked the action sheets in his office so they could not be mailed out.
The staff's complaints don't stop with Shaffer-Corona, however. Several staffers complained of "verbal abuse," particularly from Warren, and occasionally from Lockridge and Simmons. Warren frequently has lashed out at the staff members at public meetings.
"There's been physical intimidation in the sense of [a board member] standing over you and putting their face in your face, cussing and threatening. . . . It's gotten to the point where women who work here are afraid of being struck by a board member on a tirade," said one staff member who asked not to be identified.
Warren, Lockridge and Simmons yesterday denied that they had harassed any staff member.
In addition, sources said Schwartz once had tried to get staff members to change the language of board minutes that the board had approved. Schwartz said yesterday that she had only tried to change a factual error in a motion a member had made.
The staff members -- who do the board's clerical research and administrative work -- said they decided to petition the board so that it would "take appropriate steps to rectify the problem."
As a result, board member Linda Cropp has requested that the matter be discussed at the board's next meeting on July 23.
"I am aware of most of the incidents alleged," Lockridge said yesterday. "I definitely feel the board has an image problem that must be part of the discussion as we move to rectify the staff's complaints."
Though the board's problems with its staff have surfaced only recently, feuds among the board members themselves have become the norm in recent years.
Many school officials and observers have complained that the infighting keeps the board from overseeing the city's schools effectively.
Among the latest disputes, board member Alaire B. Rieffel, chairman of the board's educational assessment committee, has called off the committee's meetings because of a dispute with Warren. Simmons, meanwhile, is refusing to attend any committee meetings because she is mad at Lockridge.
Shaffer-Corona has filed suit against Lockridge seeking $38 he says the board owes him for a trip he made to California and Mexico.
Simmons and Shaffer-Corona, meanwhile, are trying to oust Lockridge, whom they refer to as "the petty dictator," from the board presidency. So far, they have been unable to get a majority of their colleagues to support them.