Harry Jaffe: Sour school activists call Fenty fixes racist
By: Harry Jaffe
June 25, 2010
One of my enduring memories of my years as a D.C. public school parent was my first meeting at Wilson Senior High in the summer of 2006. We had gathered in the auditorium to hear the principal describe the classes and after-school opportunities his school would offer to our children.
"I am terribly sorry it's so hot in this school," he said. "We have no air conditioning."
That was then. For the last two years, Wilson has been cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Thanks to Allen Lew and his Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization, schools across the nation's capital city are better places to learn. Roofs no longer leak, bathrooms no longer flood, fields have grass rather than dust and packed dirt.
Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee has cut a controversial figure in her management of the teachers and principals. Lew has stayed out of the limelight, aimed his staff at keeping contractors under budget and on time, delivered better places for students.
Rhee is in play in the current political season. The political classes wonder whether she will stay in place if her patron, Adrian Fenty, loses his re-election bid. Lew has worked well under Fenty but has strong ties with Vincent Gray, the council chairman who's challenging Fenty. My sources say Lew is "agnostic" and would stay to complete the job.
All of which makes me furious that some school activists have made Lew and his agency a political target. Mary Filardo, director of the 21st Century School Fund, this week released figures accusing Lew -- and indirectly Fenty -- of favoring wealthy white wards.
"Communities without social capital lose out on public investment when there is poor planning and no intentional public policy or equity," Filardo wrote.
Allow me to translate. Filardo accuses Lew and Fenty of spending more money on schools in white wards and neglecting black ones. She's also peeved that she was not part of the planning process.
Filardo contorted the numbers to suit her conclusion. She and her bean counters divided funding into square footage and per student ratios, which showed the least money going to middle-class Ward 4, and too much to Georgetown in Ward 2. It also showed plenty going to poor wards, which undercut her conclusion.
Anyone who visits schools that have been buffed up, or renovated, or built from the ground up, will travel all across town. In 2007 four schools were modernized; one, Hardy, was in Ward 2. In 2008, the number was again four; one was in Ward 3. Last year Lew modernized 10; one was in Ward 2, one in Ward 3. Most were in middle-class black wards, especially Ward 5.
This year and next Lew aims to rebuild four high schools: Anacostia in Ward 8, Woodson in Ward 7, Eastern in Ward 6 and Wilson, my daughter's alma mater, in Ward 3. It's about time.
And it's about time the adults quit turning success stories for kids into racial conflicts to suit their "activist" needs.
Harry Jaffe's column appears on Tuesday and Friday. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org