Mayor Barry and Cora Masters Lady MacBarry, currently junketing in the Far East to convince Asian investors that D.C. is crime-free (LL wishes them lots of luck), may have control board Chairman Andrew Brimmer pegged. The city’s first political couple calculates that, if pushed enough, the politically klutzy Brimmer will overreact and undermine the board’s credibility.
Brimmer did just that last week, when he called a news conference to demand an apology from at-large school board member Jay Silberman, who had hung a reproduction of Munch’s famed The Scream, to denounce the control board’s “lynching of democracy.” Silberman’s ploy was part of a demonstration by school board members protesting the control board’s plan to name an unelected five-member panel to usurp their powers.
After nobly turning the other cheek earlier this year when the fiery Union Temple Baptist Church Rev. Willie Wilson called him “the foolish Negro” and Barry compared the control board to German dictators, Brimmer angrily blasted the actions of white D.C. school board members. He accused Silberman of “the most egregious racial insult imaginable” by using “the most hated symbol of racism in the United States.”
Brimmer then held up a news photo of Silberman’s lynching demonstration for what seemed like an eternity, just to make certain the TV cameras captured it. In the end, however, henot Silbermanseemed to be the one who was playing the race card.
Brimmer’s bizarre performance was little more than an misguided attempt to counter a surge of criticism by appealing to the city’s black majority on racial grounds. Most D.C. residents prefer a strong control board that acts decisively. All candidates who ran this year on an anti-control board platform got the cold shoulder from D.C. voters and were forced to store their slogans and posters until a more amenable political environment arose.
Brimmer, however, seems bent on alienating his own fan club.
For instance, Brimmer and the control board tried to prevent Silberman, school board President Karen Shook, and retiring Ward 3 school board member Erika Landberg, all white, from attending the Nov. 8 news conference. The building’s elevators were shut down after control board staffers learned the three school board members were in the lobby.
Shook was enraged at the slight and gave an earful to control board Executive Director John Hill, whom she suspected of flicking the elevator switch. Shook finally managed to push her way into the news conference.
The control board also threatened to cancel a meeting with the council later that afternoon after learning that councilmembers intended to ask questions about plans to strip the school board of its powers and to oust Superintendent Franklin Smith. The control board wanted the meeting restricted solely to a briefing on school building repairs.
The meeting did take place, but councilmembers were briefed by control board staffers, who were prohibited from discussing the board’s plans for Smith, and for Silberman and Co.
The board’s exclusionary tendencies echo the management style of the U.S. General Accounting Office, the former employer of key control board staffers, where secrecy and exclusivity are standard operating procedures. Secrecy and exclusivity, however, won’t work in a city teeming with vocal control board opponents eager to blast the board as arrogant, unaccountable, and power hungry.
D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, no fan of Smith or the school board, has been muted in her criticism of the control board’s plans to further undercut home rule. But Norton has steadfastly insisted that the board more frequently consult local elected officials.
Over the past year, Congress has saddled the District with a public charter school board to oversee the creation of new charter schools, the federally appointed and all-powerful Consensus Commission to enact education reforms, and the World Class Schools Task Force to overhaul school curricula. Now the control board wants to add a fourth unelected panel to oversee D.C. schools.
If the school system doesn’t rot from mismanagement within, it’s sure to crumble under the weight of the congressionally spawned bureaucracy appointed to nurse it back to full health. CP
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