Letters to the Editor: May 10, 2017

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In an interview with The Current, Mayor Muriel Bowser defended several contentious positions on education, including the school funding formula. (Susann Shin/The Current/April 2017)

Mayor Bowser needs to pay teachers what they’re due

I was raised in a strong union household in Bergen County, N.J. Both my parents were teachers and members of the statewide union, the New Jersey Education Association, and both were union representatives at the schools where they taught. My parents believed in the right to collective bargaining and the rights of workers. I learned from an early age the importance of fighting for equity among workers and their employers. Today, as a fourth-grade teacher at Lafayette Elementary School, I am a member of the Washington Teachers’ Union and a union representative for the school I work at, and fight for the right to collective bargaining and the rights of workers.

Teachers in D.C. Public Schools have been working out of contract for nearly five years; this means that teachers have not seen a cost-of-living increase in their salaries for that same five years. Meanwhile, as the median income of District residents has been on the rise, the D.C. government has collected more and more money from its taxpayers. The question is: Why have teachers been left behind? Every other District government employee has seen a wage increase over the past five years. In fact, non-union employees in D.C. have seen a compounded 12 percent wage increase over the past six years. The mayor and her office clearly have priorities that do not extend to teachers.

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The District government run by Mayor Muriel Bowser needs a reminder of what it is like to support union workers. The government currently stands with a $2.4 billion surplus in its coffers. It is no secret that the District of Columbia is growing as more and more young people and families move into the city — which is pricing many teachers out of D.C. due to higher housing costs. Mayor Bowser holds the proverbial key, however, to alleviate this problem: a cost-of-living wage increase.

Mayor Bowser and former Chancellor Kaya Henderson love to tout the idea that teachers in D.C. are among the highest-paid teachers in the country [“Bowser discusses plans for education disputes,” The Current, April 26]. When comparing salaries of teachers from across the country, Mayor Bowser and Ms. Henderson are correct. It gets a bit tricky, though, when you realize you are comparing apples to kumquats. While D.C. Public Schools does offer competitive salaries, D.C. teachers rank 42nd in the nation in salary when adjusted for the cost of living. The reality is, teachers are woefully underpaid if they want to live in the district in which they teach.

D.C. teachers have been waiting for the money they are owed over this five-year period. Since contract negotiations began, the mayor’s office and the budget team knew that they would need to provide teachers retroactive pay. For many teachers, retroactive pay, along with a cost-of-living wage increase, would allow them to retire comfortably after providing decades of education to D.C. children. The retroactive repayment for teachers would cost the District approximately $45 million, money it obviously has, but Mayor Bowser seems unwilling to provide it.

Teachers have waited long enough. Mayor Bowser and her team must come to the table with a plan for retroactive pay. The Washington Teachers’ Union and unions across the country exist so that employer power does not override the power of the employee. All 4,800 teachers and their countless allies in the District of Columbia must stand up and demand that Mayor Bowser give her teachers the retroactive pay they deserve. Teachers in D.C. have waited far too long for us to walk away now from the bargaining table without getting what we have been promised. I will continue to fight for the rights of my brothers and sisters in the Washington Teachers’ Union because that’s how I was brought up. I implore the residents of the District of Columbia to stand with us as we continue the struggle for fair treatment by the District government. Only together can we make real and positive change for teachers, students and their families in Washington, D.C.

Jared J. Catapano is a teacher at Lafayette Elementary School.

Ward 3 pool site was sloppily selected

Plans for a pool at Hearst Park have sparked debate in the community. (Brian Kapur/The Current/March 2017)

“Well, you have to start somewhere.” That was Ward 3 D.C. Council member Mary Cheh’s defense during an April 26 budget hearing for a $6 million line item to install an outdoor pool at Hearst Park. Ms. Cheh needs to find a better starting place. Here are my common-sense suggestions for one.

First, Ms. Cheh should value the community’s voices. Ward 3 residents of all persuasions — those for a pool, against a pool, advocates of sensible land management and those simply committed to responsible government — have expressed their frustration with the District’s failure to include them. Strong letters and resolutions from the Cleveland Park Citizens Association, the Cleveland Park Historical Society, Stoddert Soccer and Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3F explicitly leveling their frustrations have been sent to her office — some even by hand. She has not offered one constructive response.
Second, Ms. Cheh should enforce District regulations on the agencies that she oversees, including the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation. The District requires any agency undertaking a capital project exceeding $1 million to first perform an objective analysis of alternatives. Freedom of Information Act requests to the departments of General Services and Parks and Recreation have definitively shown that no such analyses were ever conducted.

Although tone-deaf to her constituency and apparently unwilling to enforce D.C. regulations, Ms. Cheh could still champion a thoughtful process to site a pool. The pool could be located in one of nearly a dozen parcels of public land in Ward 3 that are controlled by the federal government. In concert with community groups and concerned individuals, Ms. Cheh should ask Mayor Muriel Bowser to request that the U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke instruct the National Park Service to enter into a memorandum of understanding to provide the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation with management authority over a pool site in Ward 3 that is more suitable than Hearst Park.

There are many such examples of this type of arrangement throughout the city, and locating a pool is well-suited to this approach. Is there a reason Ms. Cheh cannot start with this common-sense step?

Bill Matzelevich, North Cleveland Park

City mustn’t overlook basic infrastructure

West End residents have sought repairs to sidewalks in the 1000 block of 22nd Street NW. (Brian Kapur/The Current/February 2017)

The city by all accounts is on “fast-forward” — people young and old are moving in for the vibrancy and conveniences of urban living. New, state-of-the-art residential buildings — each with amenities ranging from dog exercise centers to workout facilities to remarkable vistas — seem to be opening weekly. A soccer stadium is on its way as talk swirls about other new venues to come, such as Apple to the historic Carnegie Library at Mount Vernon Square. Yet there seems to be something missing amid this pell-mell rush to the future: taking care of the basics in many of the city’s older neighborhoods.

As a resident of Mount Pleasant, I see hazardous sidewalks on almost every block, such that motorized wheelchairs cannot use them due to the risk of overturning.

Wheelchair-bound residents of an apartment complex near me use the street instead of the sidewalk to reach our neighborhood’s commercial area. The state of the sidewalks is a hazard as well to the many strollers in the neighborhood and our many senior residents. Falls are the most significant health risk to seniors, and the city should do all it can to make its neighborhoods user-friendly to its aging population.

It’s not only sidewalks that are neglected. In many neighborhoods there are badly rusted streetlights that have not been painted in decades. An estimated 7,000 badly rusted streetlight poles need special treatment given the hazards of lead paint. This is not to mention the many streetlights that do not work at night, or that are on during the day. Since last fall, residents have been reporting about 1,000 a month to 311 as needing repair.

Street signs too are in poor condition. Many that are sun-facing are badly faded even to the point of being illegible. Others are damaged or missing altogether — even street name signs from Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue to Wisconsin Avenue.

Given the city’s favorable financial position — having posted its strongest financial quarter ever, with record fund balances — it makes sense to allocate the relatively small amounts needed to take care of the basics in the neighborhoods that have anchored the city for decades. These are basic services that municipal government is supposed to deliver to its residents and taxpayers.

Furthermore, investing in the basics can yield enough savings to offset repair costs — for instance, the city pays millions to settle claims due to injuries from falls occurring on its sidewalks and curbs. Everything counts: Say yes to new venues, modernized buildings and trend-setting uses — but don’t forget to get all the little things done right as well. They make a big difference in people’s day-to-day lives.

Terry Lynch, Mount Pleasant