Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Fenty and the press

The Washington City Paper's Loose Lips column this week takes a look at the mayoral candidate Adrian Fenty and his recent press tour of Shepherd Elementary School.
In an e-mail sent to media the previous morning, D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) Superintendent Clifford B. Janey was billed as the headliner. That practically guaranteed television coverage. But that evening, at around 8 p.m., LL received a cell-phone message from a Fenty staffer saying Janey wouldn't be in attendance. In the morning, DCPS facilities manager Cornell Brown arrived on the scene without his boss.

Fenty led reporters into a steamy classroom with rotting window frames and panes of plexiglass, where Brown ended up in a familiar but uncomfortable role: the involuntary star of a Fenty press conference. He had the choice of joining in the show or being labeled as unresponsive to the needs of children.

Shepherd parent-teacher association member Frank Borris ticked off a list of all-too-typical parental grievances: too hot in some rooms, too cold in others, half-assed temporary repair jobs that somehow count as "school modernization." And Borris delivered the to-kill-for TV quote: "This is about how much we love the kids."

Fenty knows the routine well. By his own account, he's toured schools with DCPS leaders and cameras on "at least" six previous occasions. He says two of those schools have moved up on the repair list.

School officials are tired of Fenty's stunts. Official word was that Janey had to bail on the early-morning walk-through because of an "emergency meeting." But two DCPS staffers say Janey never intended to go to Shepherd.

DCPS Chief Business Operations Officer Tom Brady shakes his head when LL asks how school press events help in the push to repair buildings. "This is no way to do business," he says.

Brown agrees. "I've been a facilities manager for 10 years in two systems," he says, "and I was in front of a camera only twice before coming here."

Brown obviously skipped the Fenty memo during his DCPS management orientation.

Fenty's campaign-trail applause line has been slaying the crowds: "If we can find the money to build a new baseball stadium, surely we can find a way to fix our schools."

The way he's found employs a time-tested solution to fixing run-down D.C. schools: spend a lot more money. Fenty's bill proposes using $60 million in D.C. Lottery earnings each year to finance a $1 billion bond issue.

The nearly $1 billion in tax dollars already spent on capital improvements over the past five years haven't fixed D.C.'s crumbling schools. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers came to the rescue a few years back and ran through lots of cash, but the problems remain.
So, is Fenty shamelessly manipulating DCPS and the press to further his political aspirations, or is he bringing attention and energy to a long-neglected situation? Maybe its a bit of both. Whatever the purpose it should make for an interesting election season. And, frankly, the more the spotlight shines on DCPS the quicker things get changed.


Mark Lerner said...

Nathan, your first conclusion is correct. I attended a Council meeting where Mr. Fenty went on and on about the poor conditions of D.C. schools in front of the public. Then when DCPS officials showed up he didn't say a thing. Politics at its best.


Marc Borbely said...

To be honest, I couldn't care less why Fenty's fighting for the schools or demanding that something be done about the shameful conditions of the school buildings. All I care is that he's doing so, in a tremendous way.

I applaud the eight Councilmembers (Barry, Brown, Catania, Fenty, Graham, Gray, Mendelson and Schwartz) who have co-sponsored the $1 billion for school facilities bill, and urge the other five (Ambrose, Cropp, Evans, Orange Patterson) to get on board before they get left behind.

- Marc Borbely

CYMM said...

Could someone on this learn'ed blog darn site give me an example of the last time DCPS was in issue in this quarter decade rite we call the Mayoral race.