The Ward 1 Democratic organization filed suit yesterday in D.C. Superior Court in an effort to force the school board to appoint someone to fill the Ward 1 school board seat, which has been vacant for five months.
The class action suit, filed on behalf of all Ward 1 residents, asks the court to order the school board to fill the vacancy at its meeting scheduled for 3:30 p.m. today. The suit also asks the court to enjoin the board from enacting any other business until the vacancy is filled.
The Ward 1 school board seat became vacant after Frank Smith was elected to represent that ward, which includes the Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant and LeDroit Park neighborhoods, on the City Council. Board President David H. Eaton has been serving temporarily as the Ward 1 representative on the 11-member body.
Eaton told a reporter that at today's meeting the board planned to set a date to appoint a new Ward 1 member within two weeks. "We have been moving, but apparently not at a pace swift enough for some people," Eaton said in commenting on the suit.
"The board is playing political tennis with us and we're just tired of being tossed around," said Anwar Saleem, chairman of the Ward One Democrats and a public-school parent. "The board is dealing in personalities. One sector of the board is scared that the other sector will get a ruling majority," depending on who is appointed, Saleem said.
A hearing will be held today at 10:30 a.m. before Judge John D. Fauntleroy.
Eleven candidates are vying for the seat. The board met twice in February to try to fill the vacancy, but on both occasions, none of the candidates succeeded in getting a majority of board members' votes. The board then asked the City Council to hold a special election to fill the seat, but the council refused.
Smith's seat is pivotal because he was part of a majority of board members that often voted as a block. It included board president Eaton (At-large), vice president Nathaniel Bush (Ward 7), Linda Cropp (Ward 4), Wanda Washburn (Ward 3) and R. David Hall (Ward 2).
That coalition was generally more supportive of the programs of Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie than the faction of the board that included R. Calvin Lockridge (Ward 8), John E. Warren (Ward 6), Bettie G. Benjamin (Ward 5) and Barbara Lett Simmons (At-large). Eugene Kinlow (At-large) has voted with both factions on different occasions.
Saleem said that many Ward 1 residents believe their efforts to prevent a liquor store from opening near the Cleveland Elementary School was hindered because they did not have a school board representative to support them.
He said residents also were concerned that the recent evaluation of McKenzie by board members did not reflect the input of the residents of the ward through their representative.
"We have deteriorating schools in our ward and we do not have a vote on the school board," Saleem said.
He said the Ward One Democrats decided to file suit because the school board had not been responding to its concerns.