Shortly before embattled DC Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor Kaya Henderson met with the DC City Council's new Education Committee inside the John A. Wilson Building today, Empower DC and attorney Johnny Barnes announced a legal injunction to block her plan to close 15 city public schools from the freezing steps of the same building.
Protesters brought many of their colorful and provocative signs inside and filled seats at the City Council committee hearing. The proceedings indoors aired live on City Cable TV 13 and DC Council member David A. Catania kept other citizens apprised of developments by tweeting live on Twitter.
D.C. Council members finally had their chance to question Chancellor Kaya Henderson in person and in public about her latest school consolidation plan.
David Catania, the Independent At-Large Council member who is Chair of the new Education Committee has said that one of his top priorities is improving the school system’s budget transparency and ''understanding how every dollar is spent.''
Catania said that DC education committees have been ''missing in action for six years,'' and that lack of oversight has detrimentally affected DCPS.
For example, the closure of 23 D.C. schools in 2008 cost nearly $18 million, according to an audit released in August, nearly double the $9.7 million originally reported by the school system.
Catania has already introduced three bills this year for city reform, most notably one for DC CFO budget transparency.
Council and Committee member Yvette Alexander represents Ward 7, where four of the Chancellor's 15 schools are slated to be closed. She demands that any savings from the closures of those four schools, Ron Brown Middle, Kenilworth Elementary, Davis Elementary and Winston Education Campus, must remain in Ward 7.
While Alexander made a visible effort and succeeded in remaining civil and constructive throughout the meeting, the Chancellor did neither.
The most notable comments about her contentiousness came from Marion Barry, Council member for Ward 8 and former DC Mayor, who criticized the Chancellor for giving the council a ''facetious'' answer to their questions. He also took her to task for interrupting him and for ''cutting (him) off'.''
At one point, Henderson lost her composure and raised her voice over soft-spoken Barry.
''Why the hostility?'' he asked.
Half-way through the Chancellor's answer to his next question, he retracted it, complaining, ''No, I don't want your answer.''
He ended his attempt at a civil discourse with the Chancellor with a statement of disgust, insisting, ''You're not telling the truth!''
Instead of releasing the anticipated data of studies already conducted to support her case, Henderson was mostly on the defensive today.
Although Henderson again promised ''more robust'' programs across the city, she was reminded how she has orchestrated a systematic downsizing and ''excessing'' of Art, Music and other 'special subjects' programs and teachers during her tenure.
Council member Alexander stated, ''I want to see Art , Music and P.E. in every school in Ward 7. I want to see language offerings in Ward 7, modern libraries in Ward 7, and a STEM focus in every school in Ward 7.''
As the end of the meeting approached, Chairperson Catania gave his ''recap,''
'We are hoping to embark on a new era of collective responsibility, giving out honest information, so that the public can make informed decisions.'
The Chancellor was allowed the final word:
''This is complex, frustrating and difficult,'' she said, but she agreed to ''work on these budget issues.''
Notably, this is how the Chancellor chose to end the nearly 3-hour meeting.
Dripping in flashy, bulky gold jewelry, the Chancellor bragged about all her other standing job offers and implied that she could be making a lot more money ''without all of this,'' gesturing with both arms at the City Council and the cameras.