The Price Is Rightsize Parents rant about the costs of the Fenty administration's school-closing plan.

Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

Maria P. Jones has a lot riding on the actions of D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee.

Jones has a 4-year-old daughter, Laci Joseph, who attends pre-K at Burroughs Elementary School in Northeast. Jones and her husband live across the street from Burroughs. They did a lot of scouting before settling on Burroughs. They took two tours of Burroughs. They met with the principal of Burroughs.

Now each school day morning, Jones says her daughter can’t wait for Borroughs to open its doors.

Burroughs, however, is among two dozen public schools in the District slated for closing. The case for shuttering the schools, as articulated by Rhee and Mayor Adrian Fenty, is strong. The school population has dropped below 50,000 students, leaving classrooms across the system empty or close enough. School brass are forever chasing one deficit or another, and closing schools serves fiscal responsibility in two ways—the city can sell the real estate and trim its enormous facilities-maintenance budget.

D.C. has gone down this road before. The schools administration in 1997 proposed closing 16 schools and actually closed 11.


The five saved in that round benefited from smash-mouth civic activism. Mad parents got in the faces of the bean counters and shouted them down, taking a cue from the ages to protect their children from all predators: in this case, whatever consolidation plan the administrators happened to draw up at headquarters. The same process will repeat itself this time, but with a bit of a twist. Rhee and Fenty scheduled 23 simultaneous public hearings last night, one for each proposed closing. In addition, two councilmembers scheduled a “people’s meeting” to cover general concerns at the John A. Wilson building. Twenty-four hearings in a single night: Rest assured neither Fenty nor Rhee could possibly make the rounds to become the punching bag at all, or even most, of them.

D.C. history buffs will tell you that the city has a glorious history of low-to-the-ground political participation, even over the past decade or so. House Speaker Newt Gingrich made history in 1995 by hosting a town hall meeting on District ills at Eastern High School. Hundreds were shut out of the affair. The masses turned out again for public sessions on Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ failed plan to take over the school system. And every four years, just about every civic association in town hosts a forum for mayoral candidates.

That grassroots spirit was in evidence last night, albeit somewhat hushed. Many of the Maria P. Joneses of D.C. trudged through snow, braving a level of slush that would normally grind the District to a panicked halt, to show up and bitch. But at some hearings—like the one to discuss the closing of Rudolph Elementary—no one showed up to testify. Not one parent. Not a single teacher.

The people who did come to the forums did so with pretty much the same basic message: Don’t shut down my child’s school, goddamnit.

But like any truly democratic event, it was far richer than that. The participants, after all, had been rehearsing their lines for weeks, losing sleep over how they’d shout down Rhee, Fenty, or whichever principal happened to be standing in front of them. And we went to all 24 of the historic bitch sessions, even the ones where the parents didn’t show. With the Elite Irate and the Also Rans, we celebrate this night of grassroots rhetoric and launch the pursuit of the finest school-closing sound bite in the entire District of Columbia. —Erik Wemple

(Link will open in a new window)

Not every quote can make it to the Elite Irate. There were plenty of Also Rans at the 23 "reorganization and rightsizing" hearings for the District of Columbia Public Schools—and a few from the People's Meeting down at the Wilson Building. Here are the best quotes culled from all 24 hearings:

"If you close Bruce-Monroe, you will be messin' up a good thing."
-Patrice Richardson, 18, former student at Bruce-Monroe Elementary, graduate of Cardozo High

"Black, white, yellow. When we place our common interests first, we can move mountains. Let's do it. Let's move mountains."
-Cesar Espejo, 6th grade teacher at Bruce-Monroe

"These children are the children of voters. We have voted before, and we will vote again."
-Maurice Powers, Bruce-Monroe parent. Fifty years ago, he was a second-grader at Parkview even though he could see Monroe School from his house.

"This will only disrupt the progress we are currently making and lead to low morale."
-David Pauk, teacher at Bruce-Monroe

"[Smothers Elementary] is a family that loves each other."
-Lorren Love, age 10

"When you close one school, you sacrifice children....It can be a culture shock. [My son] needs to be in a closed environment rather than an open space. He may think it's a playground rather than a school."
-Pamela Nixon

"The law says no child left behind, but once again we've been left behind."
-Patricia Patterson

"Tell Fenty he's got a lot to answer for! A lot! He said he was gonna open more schools, but it only took him nine months to pick up where Williams left off!"
-Irene Washington

"How are we going to have the division where the older kids aren't running over our 3-year-olds?"
-Joyce Hill, Washington Teachers Union building rep for LaSalle Elementary

"It feels very artificial, us coming out tonight to talk to a tape recorder.... We'll have no more clarity than when we're gossiping around the water cooler, watching the news, or reading the newspaper."
-Jana Parker, third-grade teacher at LaSalle

"Can we be resolved that we can make a difference? You gotta believe you can make a difference!"
-Marion Barry, mayor for life

"This is the People's Meeting! I had to come to the People's Meeting!"
-Kwame Brown, not quite mayor for life yet

General chant at the Wilson Building: "Make no mistake / Don't be fooled / They're about condos / We're about schools!"

"It is a conspiracy. That's why they were able to do this."
-Joyce Robinson-Paul, ML Washington Career HS counselor

"When two elephants fight, it's the grass that gets trampled. I'm not gonna name names, but you better Rhee-member!"
-Unidentified woman

"The people who organized this know how to disorganize us."
-a man who had been given the wrong address for the Cooke school meeting by the DCPS Web site

"I'm concerned that the opportunity for parents to have input is diminished by having discussions of the closings in places that are in no way in proximity to where people live."
-Marsha Lillie-Banton

"I came here today. I came because I care about those dirty, stinking little children. Every day, they come in wearing the same stinky underwear, hugging you. And I care about them."
-Deborah Pitts, teacher at P.R. Harris Elementary

"You have nothing to worry about. We're going to take the best talent in the schools and lift them up so we can do even better. It's going to be great."
-Mayor Adrian Fenty

"They're trying to move us out, get better, more modernized citizens in. More productive, with jobs and stuff."
-Ayesha Harris, 26

"Our children are being hustled out. It's self-explanatory. They're using the children and taking them to another community so their schools can stay open. So that's hustling."
-Hannah Hawkins, director of after-school center

"We will wait. I will sing."
-Ximena F. Hartsock, assistant to the chancellor, after reading the rules of order in both English and Spanish and nobody was there to speak. (She didn't sing.)

"If a school with capacity for 2,000 students has 200 in it, something should be done. I can see that's a waste of space."
-Sheila Copeland, fifth-grade teacher at Tubman.

"How can you all decide what schools are going to be closed when you don't know anything about the community...Take that back to Rhee...She needs to go back to New York where she came from."
-Bill Myers

"I just feel it's a drastic process."
-Joan Irabor, Miner Elementary parent

"We have fought so hard to bring children and parents together, and now we're going to have another split."
-Brenda Artis, grandparent of two at Miner and PSA 103 citizen coordinator

"Here we are celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday some 40 years later with the same problem of educational choices being denied."
-Darlene Babil, president of M.M. Washington Career High School's PTA

"We cannot continue to postpone taking the bitter medicine of school reform."
-Ted McGinn, co-chair of the Emery Elementary Local School Restructuring Team

"If you look at the Burroughs campus, you will see it is clean. This is because parents have taken ownership of the schools. [At Taft Center, which could receive Burroughs' students] the floors are buckled."
- Rudolph Knott

Contributors: Mark Athitakis, Jule Banville, Andrew Beaujon, Matt Borlik, Jason Cherkis, Mike DeBonis, Arthur Delaney, Amanda Hess, Dave McKenna, Ruth Samuelson, Franklin Schneider, Rend Smith, Tanya Snyder, Angela Valdez, Erik Wemple

Our Readers Say

Ultimately, something will have to be done about the schools however, one must ask how it will be accomplished? It took the dcps all summer just to clean the schools for the 2007-2008 school year. I find in inconceivable that the chancellor and the mayor can restructure, reorganize and reoutfit the selected schools in 2 months time (for according to chancelor Rhee, no changes would begin prior to the end of the school year) when DCPS cannot complete simple repairs. If this has to happen, it needs to be done with greater community, school, faculty and parental involvement to ease transition. Perhaps if Chancelor Rhee and Mayor Fenty worked more cohesively with the parents, the transition would be smoother.
EDUCATIONAL AND FISCAL CONSEQUENCES --- Education Week recently rated D.C. public schools at the bottom with a D+ as one of the nation's worst performing school systems in its detailed 2008 annual 50-state report. Despite the devastating details, mayor Fenty's takeover team of Michelle Rhee, Victor Reinoso, Allen Lew, and de facto mayor Dan Tangherlini use the logic that fewer public schools and educators will raise the educational status of the District of Columbia. After one year, we have clearly elected and appointed officials that are running a major national and world capital like a small rural county.

The hard work of planning, creating and effectively managing a public school system of excellence in the "Nation's Capital" is being avoided in favor of the easy choice to just sell taxpayer-owned public property to private interests. This is especially important regarding the many educational, training, and diverse family oriented services (so-called "wrap-around" services) needed in every District ward. Is the real problem that they've had no real plan, or clue, since dissed and dismissed superintendent Clifford Janey's plan?

There's a lot to be said about D.C. Public Schools chancellor Rhee's meetings on school closings. Having attended a few, it's abundantly clear that the takeover team also has no clue about communicating with District communities, or the D.C. Council. Justified suspicion comes from their secrecy and a clear lack of transparency. In fact, the more Rhee and associates talk (or don't talk), the more you realize they don't have an actual comprehensive plan of their own. It's amateur hour in the nation's capital, and there are weak checks and balances from our councilmembers.

The heavy hostility and fearful questions from a variety of parents, across all 8 wards, has been hard to bear even for one evening's meeting. There's a definite sense of betrayal, disgust and dictatorship behind the feelings of parents and educators who expected a partnership with Fenty's takeover team. You don't hear much about "parent involvement" from officials anymore. Parent questions are usually answered with scripted responses providing no indication about real intentions.

Now, the takeover team seeks to create more purposeful chaos, a classic divide and conquer tactic, by having only one mass meeting for hundreds of disgusted parents from 23 schools on January 17. Clearly, the takeover team is in violation of DC Official Code Title 5, Chapter 36, Closing Public Schools - Sec. 3600.4, Sec. 3602.1, Sec. 3607.2, Sec. 3608.4, and Sec. 3608.6.

However, through all of the takeover team's rhetoric, violations, dodging and purposeful manipulation, has anyone thought about what's really going on? Have we thought outside this box, or even about the box itself? Closing public schools is not a minor matter. The price for implementing desperate and undisclosed solutions has unintended major educational and fiscal consequences. We've been here before. Therefore, here are five critically important questions to consider in 2008, and before our next D.C. election:

1) What happens if the District's family population rises and there are not enough nearby schools, operating revenue, school personnel, and property space to build schools?

2) Beyond a fiscally expensive new baseball stadium, pricey stores, dwindling affordable housing, and crime emergencies, what will be the attraction for revenue-generating families to move into the District if there are not enough good and conveniently located schools for their children?

3) Are mayor Adrian Fenty, the takeover team, some councilmembers and condo developers speculating that mostly or only high income childless couples and singles will gentrify and finance the District?

4) Is the real deal behind the selling of school properties and other taxpayer-owned assets actually due to the D.C. fiscal crisis that Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi knows is coming?

5) Are we actually witnessing, but not talking about, America's biggest yard sale of schools and other taxpayer owned properties to raise money for D.C.'s coming fiscal crisis?

What happened to the billions in revenue mayor Fenty and others said was budgeted for improvements based on Dr. Janey's plan. Let's not forget about the millions of stolen dollars to be revealed in federal investigations and indictments. All of this sounds like a shell game behind a crap game. "The Perp Walk" may become the title of Chuck Brown's newest D.C. dance song.

In the meantime, anyone interested in the details of a concept to effectively educate and thoroughly prepare our children for a globalized 21st century, read about the ESP (Excellent Schools Plan) Public Academy concept at

Dennis Moore, Chairperson,
District of Columbia Independents for Citizen Control (DCICC)
Not wanting to give the appearance of throwing a rock and hiding my hand, allow me to identify myself. I am Jeri Washington, Ward 7 resident and intensely proud graduate of DCPS. It is I who commented, "When two elephants fight, it's the grass that gets trampled...."
..DC has thew worst schools in the nation. The parents and teachers clearly would rather have nearby schools that suck rather than great schools a little further away.

What whiny cry babies.
Can I just highlight this quote:

"They're trying to move us out, get better, more modernized citizens in. More productive, with jobs and stuff."

This is only the second time I've heard this sentiment and it never ceases to confuse me. Can anyone explain that attitude? I'd really like to understand what it means.
D.C. IS DUE FOR A NEW POLITICAL PARADIGM IN 2010 --- I truly respect and appreciate all blog comments on D.C. public schools and governance issues. Regarding the point: "I'm also curious as to how you propose to attract all of these outstanding teachers, given the competition from private schools and the suburbs." I can just simply say that a city with a quality school system effectively administered by competent, experienced and effective officials easily attracts quality educators. As a former adult educator, I know the word gets out pretty fast and far.

Secondly, having actually worked within DCPS at the central office (under superintendents Ackerman and Vance), and regular onsite observations inside various schools (with great personal comment and complaint about what I witnessed), the amount of waste of resources and funding between the two sites is far more than what is known and reported in the media. With a conservative estimate of at least an 11 percent savings in the multi-million dollars in annual waste, teachers can easily have their annual base salary upgraded to a realistic $50,000 from the current $42,370.* Moreover, teachers should not have to buy their own classroom supplies and materials due to a dysfunctional public school supply chain.

Lastly, there is significant past evidence from other councilmembers, actual election data (see link below) and ongoing proof that refutes the assertion, "Fenty isn't running an autocracy. He won election with a clear mandate to change the way the game is played."

If there is anyone still in denial since Election Day 2006, and his councilmember years, we have elected a bona fide autocrat in the form of mayor Adrian Fenty, who's governing a major national and world capital like a small suburban county. We've been here before. Remember mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly? All image and posturing, and little or no substantive and effective governance.

Ironically, here in the capital city of a major democracy, we are experiencing the typical behavior and governance style of a pretentious democrat governing as an autocrat: a ruler having unlimited power; a despot (as in dictator) - The American Heritage College Dictionary.

With less than 30 percent of the registered D.C. electorate** and top-dollar developers (some who have received rigged development contracts) having "elected" and funded mayor Fenty, greater challenges are ahead. Read the signs, they are big! 2008 and 2009 will be exceptionally challenging fiscal, socioeconomic and embarrassing years for the District of Columbia and its officials. The quiet storm of federal investigations and indictments will reveal significant surprises.

Behind the smiling face and pretentious energy of the Trojan Horse known as mayor Adrian Fenty, D.C.'s new statehood motto and governance model has become, "Taxation Without Expectation."

**D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics 2006 Election Data:

*Improving D.C. Schools - The ESP Public Academy Concept:

Dennis Moore, Chairperson,
District of Columbia Independents for Citizen Control (DCICC) Political Party
D.C. is surrounded by some of the top county schools in the nation -- Arlington, Fairfax, Montgomery.... It's just amazing that this level of failure of DCPS has been tolerated for so long. (Thanks Marion Barry for nothing)

After reading some of the yahoos at these meetings (most clearly w/o children it was pointed out)...

"They're trying to move us out, get better, more modernized citizens in. More productive, with jobs and stuff."

...I can only hope that these consolidations go through.
Having observed DC politics from a short distance over that last 25 years, I'm still impressed by the level of parochiality on display, and the degree to which narrow self-interest consistently blocks rational plans based on achieving public goods.

The school consolidation plan is a pretty good example. Empty seats in classrooms are good for teacher-student ratios, but from a system-wide standpoint the fixed costs associated with under-utilized buildings are a nightmare. From a broad perspective, this is an easy choice: consolidate schools to reduce fixed costs, lease out now-vacant buildings to raise revenue, and distribute the savings to improve the dilapidated infrastructure that inhibits children's education.

I certainly respect Mr. Moore's perspective on the relationships between the mayor and the city council, but the major jurisdictions surrounding DC have closed public schools in the past without the histrionics that seems to characterize every aspect of DC politics. As an outside observer, I think one of the factors that inhibits reform and improvement in the District is the intense desire to mobilize and oppose any decision that emanates from a city-wide perspective, absent prior coordination with each neighborhood constituency.

I'd like to see decisive, competent governance in DC. But being realistic, I've decided to live on the northern side of Eastern Avenue.

-Rich Whittington
This paragraph is exactly right - out with the autocracy!

"If there is anyone still in denial since Election Day 2006, and his councilmember years, we have elected a bona fide autocrat in the form of mayor Adrian Fenty, who's governing a major national and world capital like a small suburban county. We've been here before. Remember mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly? All image and posturing, and little or no substantive and effective governance."

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