During the campaign for D.C. mayor, we are asking candidates for their responses on various issues. Though public school policy in D.C. is determined by the school board, what actions would you take to help improve the system?
MAURICE T. TURNER JR.: Because of today's competitive, high-tech environment, education will be my administration's No. 1 priority. I view education as the vehicle that our city's youth can use to escape the frustrations of unemployment and poverty. It is the key that will open the doors of opportunity.
Unfortunately, our school system is not operating up to its full potential. As a result our children are not learning, and we have a current dropout rate that is totally unacceptable.
As mayor, I will first keep in proper perspective the roles that my office, the school board and the city council all play in our educational system. I will pledge to foster the good relations and the ongoing dialogue needed between these respective bodies in order to improve this system and keep it working well.
However, as the city's chief administrative officer, I will also strongly recommend significant changes to this system for the sake of our children. Many of these recommendations can be found in a report issued last year by the District of Columbia's Committee on Public Education.
The COPE report advocates creating a better learning environment through such goals as increasing the emphasis on basic values and skills, increasing the role of the school and recognizing the diversity of students.
I especially support two key factors that will enhance the role of the schools. The first advocates longer school days; the second supports an increase in the number of school days during the academic year. Of course, the implementation of such recommendations would include discussions with the teachers' unions and other affected entities.
I will also advocate attracting the best teachers to our schools and developing comprehensive in-service training programs to help them maintain and improve their classroom techniques.
One of my most important tasks, however, will be to propose a responsible operating budget that will accurately reflect the needs of our school system. I will not allow traditional budget infighting to affect the most important beneficiaries of this task -- our children.
JOHN RAY: Education will be my No. 1 priority. Although the school board sets policy, the mayor must provide leadership and direction through the budget process, legislative initiatives, and public statements. As an example of what I will do as mayor, look at what I am already doing as a council member. I expect the council to act soon on my bill to:
1) Establish early-childhood development centers to get high-risk children into a learning environment at age 3.
2) Require school attendance beginning at the age of 5.
3) Open public schools for evening study and recreation to create family-oriented alternatives to the streets.
4) Require public schools to offer before- and after-school care for children up to age 12 and offer summertime enrichment programs to expand learning opportunities for children and broaden child care options for working parents.
As mayor, first, I will quickly implement this approach, in cooperation with the school board. The fact that five board members have endorsed my candidacy demonstrates the productive working relationship we have.
Second, I will put a system in place to bring into the public schools the rich learning resources we enjoy by virtue of being the nation's capital. We have not done nearly enough to tap the resources of national organizations, foreign embassies and organizations, the federal government, museums and scientific institutions, and the experts in many fields who live and work here, and to tap into the great opportunity of private industry support that is now available to public school systems across our nation.
Third, I will continue to support increases in salaries and benefits to attract the best teachers and make our system competitive with suburban schools.
CHARLENE DREW JARVIS: Teachers must be allowed to teach. Now they function as social workers, police, nurses and substitute parents. Our school system must not be required to stand on its own. The Jarvis administration will be child-centered, where every decision of government will be reviewed for its impact on children. All agencies will have a mandate to support education. For example, the Department of Employment Services currently spends millions of dollars to train individuals who have not succeeded in the public schools. I will shift this spending to our schools to teach students self-sufficiency skills before they graduate.
As mayor, I will support programs that provide:
Early education intervention programs with an emphasis on children who are at risk of failure;
Expansion of two programs that I initiated as a council member, STARS (Student Tutoring and Recreation), which provides tutoring, mentoring and recreation to elementary children; and SMART (Single Mothers Are Resources Too), which trains single mothers, many of whom are teenagers, to become licensed day care providers;
Stronger science, technology and mathematics curricula;
Increased training in entrepreneurship to steer youth away from drugs and crime and toward jobs with significant growth potential;
Increased parental and community involvement in the schools; and
Incentives to encourage greater corporate participation.
A well-run, properly funded public education system is the greatest single investment that we can make in the future of our community. The success of my first four years as mayor can be measured by a reduction in the dropout rate. Count on it!
WALTER E. FAUNTROY: Redesign our school program taking into account the changing family structure and special needs of today's child -- with 37 percent of our children coming from female-headed households. Where the mother is working out of the home, schools must open earlier and remain open longer.
Have early childhood development programs for every at-risk 3- to 4-year-old in our city.
Restructure the curriculum to reflect the labor market's transformation from smokestack industries to a high-tech, service-oriented global market. Math, science and foreign languages must be emphasized.
Invest in our teachers by increasing their pay (at a minimum to the regional average) and granting them increasing decision-making responsibilities.
Expand and enhance our Partnership With Schools Program, linking classroom education with enterprise opportunity.
Promote bilingual, cross-cultural education.
Provide incentives to increase college enrollment rates of African-American males and Hispanics.
Enforce D.C. Law 7-45 requiring a nurse in every school.
Develop special education/training programs for 16- to 19-year-old youth, which link education to immediate employment.
I include the last provision in recognition of the fact that poverty among youth is one of our most pervasive problems and that D.C. youth 16 to 19 years old have an unemployment rate that is one of the highest in the nation at 20 percent.
I recognize also that D.C. has the second-highest dropout rate in the nation. An ethnically and culturally "relevant" education for our young and an emphasis on math, science, foreign languages and technologies of tomorrow will reduce the dropout rate and prepare our young people for a productive future. Once prepared, we must reward D.C. public school graduates by assuring them entry into our state university, UDC.
SHARON PRATT DIXON: The economic landscape of Washington is changing. Washington is rapidly becoming a city of commerce, not just a government town, and at the same time the family structure has changed. We are now a society where most work immediately after children are born, and in my own community, the black community, some 60 percent of women are heads of households. Our children desperately need a different kind of school system to support them and prepare them for a 21st century economy and society.
The school is a key social anchor in a child's life, and our children need a system with a longer day, longer year, more mentors and much more rigorous curriculum, where science, math and a second language are the order of the day. This is the only way our children will be able to compete in a market place that is not only highly technical but global.
As mayor I will use every power at my disposal to effect the above and the following changes:
Anyone wishing to do business in the District of Columbia will know that, as mayor, I expect them to offer some direct educational dividend to our children. For too long we have given away the land of this city and received nothing in return.
I will hold the school board more accountable for the efficiency and effectiveness of its budget, making sure that appropriated dollars reach the children in the classrooms and are not wasted by the bureaucracy. I will press for management audits to ensure that we are getting the most for our education dollar.
I will expect and lobby for more involvement from the consortium of universities, the nonprofit groups, the churches and others to create recreational, mentor and meaningful internship programs for our children.
I will change the focus of the summer jobs program to make sure our children are given more exposure to the private sector to reinforce what they are learning in the classrooms.
I will ask of the school board, the teachers union and parents to move swiftly and work together to expand the school day and the calendar year, raise the standards for both teachers and students and make sure at-risk students are given the resources and support they need to stay in school.
DAVE CLARKE: As mayor, I intend to coordinate the resources at my disposal with those available to the District's schools to create an educational system that prepares the children of this city for academic excellence and employment.
One of the most disturbing trends I've observed is the domino effect created when high school graduates are unable to get jobs. When enrolled students observe graduates searching endlessly for employment, they become discouraged and often drop out.
I believe we must plan better for the future. As mayor, I will develop an economic plan that forecasts potential job opportunities in this city in the next five to 10 years. I will advise the school's administrators to design their curricula to produce graduates qualified for the projected jobs.
Another problem I would address is the ineffective use of funds allocated to our schools. I will continue to encourage administrators to use resources wisely and to be more accountable for their actions.
I would like to see schools use more money for educating students and less for administrative expenses, particularly the overburdening rental expenses. Schools must use space more efficiently. The board should not continue to pay over $1 million to rent office space when one in four seats in our schools is vacant.
As mayor, I would continue to push for generous education budgets, dedicating part of the federal payment for subsidy of our schools to ensure equity and excellence in education for every child in this city.