Letters to the Editor: May 24, 2017

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

Hearst site is best option for new pool

I would like to respond to Mr. Bill Matzelevich’s letter criticizing the Department of Parks and Recreation’s handling of the outdoor pool selection and planning process in Ward 3 [“Ward 3 pool site sloppily selected,” Letters to the Editor, May 10].

Our department conducted an assessment of available District-owned land (including land space at the Palisades and Friendship sites), and the conclusion remains that Hearst Park is the most suitable location for an outdoor pool in Ward 3. The District has limited parkland in the ward, and most parcels of land proposed as alternatives are not owned by the District. The federal government has made its position abundantly clear: The National Park Service will not enter into an agreement with the District to permit an outdoor pool to be constructed on its land in Ward 3. While this is not the answer some residents were hoping for, we should move forward with the best site we have available.

This project is the Hearst Park and Pool Improvement Project, and while the budget does include funding for an outdoor pool, it also includes funding and a directive for parkland improvements (such as addressing storm water runoff, enhancing the tree canopy and improving field conditions). This project is a holistic effort to improve the park while also providing Ward 3 residents with access to a neighborhood outdoor pool. Between May of 2016 and February of this year, the Department of General Services and the Department of Parks and Recreation held five open community meetings on this project — including a presentation of the community survey results, which showed strong support of the Hearst Park location for the pool. In an effort to include residents in the planning process, the survey incorporated a number of questions on desired materials, Department of Parks and Recreation activities and “green” features to be included at the site. Our department is also working with other agencies and experts to address the programming and environmental concerns outlined by community leaders.

Inevitably, there will be residents who will not want this type of amenity located at Hearst Park, but I do believe that community engagement has improved this project. We will continue extensive community outreach and will heavily consider residents’ input and suggestions moving forward.

Keith A. Anderson, Director, D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation

Teachers deserve cost-of-living raise

Thank you, Jared Catapano, for taking the lead to express a view [“Mayor needs to pay teachers what they’re due,” Viewpoint, May 10] that is shared by so many of our dedicated — yet reticent — D.C. Public Schools colleagues. I’m a patient, hard-working Lafayette Elementary School teacher, a 30-year D.C. Public Schools employee and a Ward 4 resident. Five years without a contract is absurd, and it’s time others know our situation.

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)

I make exactly the same salary (to the penny) that I did when I last got an increase in November 2011. Yet I live in and pay taxes to D.C., where my own taxes and the cost of living have skyrocketed. Many colleagues are already priced out of living in the city where they teach; others struggle to meet expenses. Yet the District has never been in a better financial situation.

In her recent interview with The Current, Mayor Bowser claimed to appreciate D.C. teachers, yet her refusal to give us retroactive pay and a decent cost-of-living raise for the future smacks of disrespect for our hard work and disregard of our needs. It stands in stark contrast to the cumulative cost-of-living raises awarded to all other D.C. union and non-union employees within the same time frame. If teachers do not get a contract with retro pay and a decent raise soon, it will cost Mayor Bowser my vote and I hope yours.

Kathy Echave, Reading Specialist, Lafayette Elementary School

Real school lottery scandal requires urgent solutions

It’s now clear that some senior members of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration received special favors to secure spots in coveted schools. Parents around the city, forced to resort to a lottery to win a seat for their children, are outraged.

One possible focus of the anger could be the parents who sought the special favors. Yes, they may have overreached, and city officials were wrong to treat a handful of school seats as patronage. But the real problem runs deeper.

Three years ago, I served on the Student Assignment Committee. After 45 years of neglect, we hit the bee’s nest of school boundaries with a stick. It could be said that “hell hath no fury” like a parent who believes their child is being treated unfairly. That fuels the anger in the current lottery scandal, and it was even more prominent in the student assignment process. Parents sticking up for their kids are hard to face, but there is a beauty in it.

The student assignment process created a platform for massive and systematic feedback on where we are with our schools and where we should go. The takeaway distilled and articulated in the final report was undeniable: “The overwhelming input from parents and District residents was that families want a citywide system of neighborhood public schools that is equitably invested in and that provides predictable and fair access to high quality schools in all of the city’s communities.”

Our families don’t want to be forced to secure access to great schools through a lottery. The idea that rolling the dice to get access to a school that meets the needs of your child is a “choice” is a canard. It is “chance,” and every parent who has spun the wheel knows it.

Yes, we all want a strong, innovative sector offering alternative options, but as thousands made clear in the painful but enlightening student assignment process, we want a core system of neighborhood schools that work. The question is, What are we doing to achieve that goal?

And therein lays the real scandal.

The school audit two years after the campaign call of “Alice Deal for All” shows D.C. Public Schools enrollment in sixth through eighth grade outside of Deal Middle School is down by over 400.

Even as Mayor Bowser claims to be making the largest investment in schools ever, this year’s proposed school budget represents a decline in real buying power on a per-student basis for the third year in a row. Meanwhile, places like Wilson High and the Columbia Heights Educational Campus face another round of staff cuts.

Furthermore, this year’s proposed six-year capital plan represents the lowest investment in school modernizations since at least 2007. The second lowest was Mayor Bowser’s first budget for 2016.

Take West Education Campus as just one example. Parents in the surrounding Ward 4 communities have organized to strengthen that school and secure its prompt modernization. Located in a building that ranks among the system’s worst in terms of condition, this school could and should serve a fast-growing population of school-age children nearby.

Those parents are exemplary. They earnestly seek to make it work so they can stay in the city, build a sense of community and rest easily that they are responsibly attending to the needs of their children.

The response in the mayor’s budget: Help is on the way — eventually. It will arrive in the form of a fully modernized school for the 2022-23 school year.

The real scandal is not that a few people received special treatment to avoid the “Hunger Games” that we call the school lottery. What is exponentially worse is that we are showing precious little sense of urgency to help hundreds of families, like those in the West community, avoid the lottery circus entirely.

The response to the current scandal shouldn’t be just to try to build a better lottery mousetrap. Rather, our elected leaders must truly commit to invest in our neighborhood schools so parents have a real choice that does not depend on a game of chance.

It now falls to the D.C. Council in its budget deliberations to show the kind of urgency on education conspicuously absent from the mayor’s budget.

Matthew Frumin is a former American University Park advisory neighborhood commissioner who is active in D.C. education issues.