As soon as the D.C. Committee for a Better School Board issued its recommendations last week for the November school board elections, the squawking began: Loud, sustained, howling protest, coming largely from unendorsed candidates and their allies.
The critics, including Mary Ann Keeffe, R. Calvin Lockridge, Phinis Jones, Barbara Lett Simmons and others, complained that the committee tried to set itself up as an absolute arbiter in the matter of the school board races, and that not enough was disclosed about how the group reached its conclusions.
But their loudest cry has been that the group was dominated by the GOP. Prominent Republicans on the committee, besides former school superintendent Vincent E. Reed and former board member Carol Schwartz, included Marjorie Parker, a former Republican National Committee member, Virginia Morris and lawyer Steven I. Danzansky.
But it is questionable whether the charge really holds water. Any endorsing group holds itself up as arbiter. Groups that endorse candidates, as the Washington Teachers Union did this week, rarely give detailed explanations of why they made their choices. And there are Democrats on the committee: school consultant William Treanor, housing activist Kimi Gray, the Rev. A. Knighton Stanley of Peoples Congregational Church. Sour grapes may be, in the final analysis, just sour grapes.
And the real reason for the committee's formation, and the shape its endorsements finally took, may be that there is widespread dissatisfaction with the current board, a throw-'em-out mentality.
"The whole climate in which this thing was formed was that the current school board is just not functioning," said one committee member. "If people had been satisfied with the board, there would have been no legitimacy for the committee whatsoever."
Reed bristled at the criticism of the committee, especially of his own role. "It seems that Vince Reed is being singled out as the person for the committee," he said. "I am not. I am one of 31 people."
Washington Informer publisher Calvin W. Rolark was one of the prominent Democrats invited to join the committee. So he joined. But Rolark said recently that he quit when he saw that the committee consisted of "a bunch of Republicans," and finally issued a "minority report" criticizing the whole process, charging that the other committee members would not listen to him.
But a committee member who asked not to be identified said of Rolark: "Calvin just didn't show up, even though he was aware of when the meetings were being held. Of course, we couldn't read his mind." The source also points out that Rolark is backing Phinis Jones -- a former aide to his wife, City Council Member Wilhelmina J. Rolark -- in Ward 8. The committee decided to endorse candidate Linda Moody instead.
Of the charge of rampant Republicanism, the committee member said that party affiliation was not a major factor in the committee's decisions. Neither, maintained the source, were personal animosities or allegiances. The panel member said that even the founding members of the committee, like Schwartz and Reed, did not always get their way.
The real reason for the committee's existence, the panel member (a Democrat) suggested, was widespread public unhappiness with the performance of the current school board. The source pointed out that not a single incumbent was recommended.
One question left unanswered is whether the committee's recommendations will have significant impact on the races. The panel plans to stay together, but will not work as a unit for any of the endorsed candidates. Thus far, there have been no commitments of money or campaign workers to help the committee's candidates. Individual members, though, are expected to work for their choices.
No, the committee won't have any impact, say incumbent board members. No, say unendorsed candidates -- publicly.
Privately . . . they hope not.