The D.C. school board's battle over a $1 million education grant from Philip Morris, the cigarette-producing conglomerate, will end soon. But not before there's one more turn in the plot.
Board members have been debating whether it's ethical to help students with money that came from the sale of cigarettes, a product that health officials link to hundreds of deaths each year in the District.
Now, the board is ready to take the money -- but not from Philip Morris.
Here's the twist: Some board members say Philip Morris really sent the grant to the Federal City Council, a prominent local business group whose members are part of a civic panel that studied D.C. schools. The council, which lobbied heavily for the board to accept the grant, agrees.
So expect the school board to accept the $1 million from the council, a move that neatly sidesteps the uproar that the grant has created. Georges C. Benjamin, the D.C. health commissioner, asked the board to reject it, as did the American Heart Association and Washington Public Health Association.
"It's an attempt to sneak it through the back door," said school board member R. Calvin Lockridge (Ward 8), who joined four other members in opposing the money.
The board majority that prevailed said that's not true. "Technically, the board was never notified that the money came from Philip Morris," said Board President Nate Bush (Ward 7). "We were premature in our earlier action." Bush said the board understands community concern over smoking, but it badly needs the grant. "We recognize our larger responsibility to help students, so we're moving forward," he said. Candidate List Grows
School board elections won't take place until November, but the field of candidates is beginning to take shape.
Five of the board's 11 seats are up for election this fall. In Ward 7, board President Nate Bush has decided to seek another term. So will R. David Hall (Ward 2). But Eugene Kinlow, an at-large member, is hinting he may not run.
Shawn X Brakeen, a D.C. teacher and a candidate of the Nation of Islam, is running for Kinlow's seat. Former school board member Bettie Benjamin, now president of the D.C. Congress of PTAs, is also considering a bid.
The closest race may be in Ward 8, where R. Calvin Lockridge annnounced recently he will seek a fourth term on the board. His prime challenger is Linda Moody, a former PTA president at Ballou Senior High School.
Another tight race likely will be for the Ward 4 seat, which is open now that former board president Linda W. Cropp has decided not to seek reelection.
Art Lloyd, a deputy U.S. marshal and community activist, is running and E. Ned Sloan, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission member, is expected to announce soon. More Closings Loom
The board's recent decision to close seven schools over the next three years will hardly be the last word on the issue.
Parents at three of those schools have at least a year left to pressure the board to change its mind. Meanwhile, the board has yet to begin examining 17 other school sites that Schools Superintendent Andrew E. Jenkins says should be closed. Several members say they want more schools to be added to his list. The board was bitterly divided on what to do with a few schools.
Members also made harsh comments about the city's junior highs, many of which have low enrollment and low student achievement.Black Studies Expert Leaves
The school system has lost another high-ranking administrator. Spencer Holland, the director of the system's effort to make its curriculums better reflect African and black American achievements, has quit.
Earlier this month, Holland joined the faculty of Bowie State University to lead a new project called the Center for Educating African-American Males.
Holland, a psychologist, has written extensively on the problems that black males face and urged that innovative new programs are needed to help them.
He also created a program called Project 2000 at Stanton Elementary School in Southeast Washington. It matches black professionals with male students and provides intensive tutoring and social support. New Student Leader
The D.C. school board has a new student member. Rico Griffin, a junior at Coolidge High School in Northwest, won a citywide election for the position last month. Griffin will be the first male student to hold the job in seven years.
He will replace Nichole Tobias, a graduating senior at McKinley High School in Northeast. Tobias has been active and outspoken on the board.
"Nichole has been an excellent representative of student concerns," said board member Erika Landberg (Ward 3). "She has consistently given us a good feel for what students are thinking."