A longtime Arlington County Board member shakes up Virginia politics by announcing plans to step away. Uncertainty clouds the future for the chief of one of Maryland's treasured public school systems. And the field of candidates narrows in D.C.'s special elections looming in the spring.
Proposals to redraw school boundaries set off political scuffles in the District. Maryland’s General Assembly rumbles across the finish line as the 2014 session closes in Annapolis. And a non-Democrat scraps his way onto the Arlington County Board, breaking the party’s strangle hold on Arlington politics. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- Abigail Smith Deputy Mayor for Education, District of Columbia
- Brian Frosh Maryland State Senator (D- Dist. 16- Montgomery County)
Abigail Smith Answers Your Questions
After DC Deputy Mayor of Education Abigail Smith’s appearance on Kojo Nnamdi’s Politics Hour, she answered additional questions that came in from listeners on Twitter and email.
Could you explain the grandfathering options? A lot of folks are concerned if changes go into effect in 2015 that means their kids are dragged out of school and taken somewhere else.
Some boundary lines seem to cut through neighborhoods. Was consideration given to neighborhoods when dividing up schools?
The loudest voices tend to be the critics, and you’ve had plenty, but what positives have you heard from people in the community about these proposals?
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Was there ever a thought about bringing charter schools more into the fold of this process?
Do you think this is the sort of project that should have started when a new mayor takes office?
Was there consideration for distance to schools when redrawing boundaries?
Are you happy with the level of funding you have for at-risk students this coming year?
Review DC’s School Boundary Proposals
Scroll And Zoom In To View Proposal Maps For Each Ward
Scroll through a comparison of policy examples and current conditions from DC Public Schools.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University, in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter for NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Tom, welcome.
MR. TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon.
SHERWOODGreat Friday afternoon. I'll be visiting the cherry blossoms this afternoon, late.
NNAMDIIt's a great Friday afternoon for a lot of people, but I suspect it's not a great Friday afternoon for the family of Medric Cecil Mills. Because it turns out that Lt. Kelleen Davis, who has been working in the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services for more than 25 years, and who is the one who was in charge at the fire station on Rhode Island Avenue the day that Mr. Mills had his heart attack and died, who was before a disciplinary panel recently, but before that disciplinary panel could reach a conclusion and tell the fire chief about it, somehow or the other, by the mystery of the regulations of employment in that department, Kelleen Davis has been retired.
NNAMDIShe is retired and now gets 70 percent of her $100,000 a year salary. And the Mills family is quite upset about that, as I'm sure are a lot of other people.
SHERWOODYou know, it is in the government, some -- when people get into trouble, oftentimes they retire before the disciplinary -- cumbersome disciplinary process can go forward. I think it's bad. With all the attention that the mayor has said he was giving this, with all the attention that Chief Ellerbe has said he was giving this, for all the attention that Deputy Mayor Paul Quander has said he was giving this, it seems like they could have slowed this process down and held it up.
SHERWOODI do believe they have the authority to do that. It will only add to the suspicion that the fire department is not run for the people that this has occurred, whether it's true or not.
NNAMDIDoes this mean this is the end of this? That even when we discover what the panel, that held the disciplinary hearing has decided on, that becomes irrelevant because Lt. Davis has retired and therefore this matter ends or…
SHERWOODI think there's a danger that the trail board can decide, okay, well, there's nothing before, as the issue is moot because the person has retired. But there are other people who were involved, too. So those are continuing. I did hear Mark Seagraves from NBC 4 asking the chief's office if the reports would still be coming out, if the board would be going forward.
SHERWOODAnd I got the impression that, yes, but I didn't hear it directly. But it would only compound the bad image of the city if somehow or another the retirement of one person in this swept the rest of it away from a public report.
NNAMDIThere has been such a great deal of public outrage about this that even if, at a formal level, proceedings may have come to an end, I don't think we've heard the end of this because people are going to continue to…
SHERWOODWell, you know, I think you'll hear from the council members and from…
SHERWOOD…the candidates for mayor. And about, you know, neither of the two principle candidates for mayor, Muriel Bowser or David Catania has said that they would keep Chief Ellerbe there. In fact, David Catania has said that Chief Ellerbe ought to step down. So I think the fire department will be a focus in the election, just as education's going to be.
NNAMDISpeaking of council members, Ward 3 council member Mary Cheh is seeking to abolish the D.C. Taxicab Commission, and take some of the responsibilities away from the District Department of Transportation. Exactly what is she trying to do here?
SHERWOODWell, it's a pretty sweeping shakeup of the transit issues in the District of Columbia. And one of the big ones for people who are listening and who don't live in the city or who anyone who drives in the city, she wants to clarify the parking ticket situation. You know, right now DDOT is responsible for the meters out on the street.
NNAMDIShe would create a department…
NNAMDI…of parking management.
SHERWOODRight. And it will simplify who's responsible for the meters. And also, if you get a ticket, what do you do? I mean, one agency adjudicates the ticket -- I love that word, adjudicates -- handles the ticket. And another agency gives them out. So it's a -- the main thing to note is that this is a proposal that even she says is just the beginning of a proposal. That she's not sure how it's all going to shake out, but she thinks that DDOT ought to focus on the roads, the Department of Motor Vehicles and transit and those kinds of issues.
NNAMDIAnd she'll abolish the Taxicab Commission all together.
SHERWOODThe Taxicab Commission, they're -- every -- many people have said they want to abolish the Taxi Commission. It's no need to appoint all the people to sit around and talk about taxicab policy.
NNAMDISo there will be something instead called a District Transit Authority.
SHERWOODAnd we'll have streetcars and connections with Metro. There's lot of interworking parts here. She thinks that the jumble of agencies ought to be clarified.
NNAMDIAnd before we go to our guest at hand, for whom there are a lot of people who -- to whom a lot of people would like to talk. Who is not running in the at-large race in the upcoming election in November? Because it now appears as if Ward 6 council member, Tommy Wells, who lost in the primary for mayor, Ward 7 council member, Yvette Alexander, apparently is considering it. The well-known Elissa Silverman, Rev. Graylan Hagler seems to be considering it. Anyone else that you know of?
SHERWOODThat's a pretty good list, but, you know, I haven't checked my inbox in the last five minutes. So it could be others. You know, I don't think Yvette Alexander -- there was this great conspiracy theme going on, that she was going to run at-large so that there would be an opening in Ward 7, that Mayor Gray could then run for that seat when he -- when the special election were to occur next year. Or that Mayor Gray would somehow or another be in position to run in 2016 against Vincent Orange. It's just too complicated.
NNAMDIIt's too jumbled right now.
SHERWOODYou would think people have enough to do without creating these scenarios.
SHERWOODBut this is a good opportunity. David Catania, you know, the mayor's -- Muriel Bowser's people have been saying, oh, David Catania's not going to really get into the race. He's got until June to really get into the race. He's going to stay and he's going to run for re-election. He's not a serious candidate for mayor. He says that, to him, is wishful thinking.
SHERWOODHe is giving up his seat. And so that's why the seat's available. There are discussions of maybe a slate being put together. Tommy Wells has talked -- people have talked to him about running this time or running against Vincent Orange two years from now. There's a turmoil going on.
NNAMDIA lot of turmoil going on and we can't make any real sense of it right now. But as soon as we can we'll be sure to let you know. Joining us now in studio is Abigail Smith. She is the deputy mayor for education of the District of Columbia. Abby Smith, thank you for joining us.
MS. ABIGAIL SMITHThank you, Kojo.
SHERWOODYou're not running, right?
SMITHI am definitely not running. You heard it here first.
NNAMDIFor the time being anyway. The last time we talked about two weeks ago, about this year's school choice lottery. Since then you've floated three different proposals for redrawing school boundaries in the District. And we'll get to what each of those plans calls for in just second. But first I'd like to get your sense for the sensitivity of this issue. The City Paper described each of the plans on a scale of who they freaked out and who they made happy.
NNAMDIA lot of people have bought homes based on the current boundaries. What sense do you have for the landmines that might be in front of you in this process? And why do you feel it's so necessary to press forward?
SMITHSo, Kojo, you're right that this is a very sensitive issue. And student assignment, where your kid goes to school is something that is really personal for families, effects lots of different things about their kids' experience and their own logistics and experience as a family. So it is certainly something that's very close to home for families and therefore people are very interested.
SMITHI will say that I have been really pleased, appreciative of the degree of engagement that people have committed to this process. So we had -- over the last week we've had three community meetings at three different high schools in D.C. And across them about 500 people have showed up just during this part of the process. We're about halfway through a process that started in October. So there's still a lot of discussion to be had and I think it's a really good sign that so many people are paying attention, are interested, want to provide feedback and help us figure out how to do this right.
SHERWOODWhat can -- and this is a simple question. What are you trying to do? Why are the boundaries -- even though they haven't been changed in 40 years -- why is it so important to change the boundaries? What are you trying to do?
SMITHSo there are a couple things, Tom. So one, as you note, it's been a very long time since there's been a comprehensive revision of the boundaries. So 1968 is the last time that the city did this in a comprehensive way. And since that time there have been lots and lots of changes in the city demographically, in terms of population, population of kids, of school-aged kids, and also lots of changes in school supply.
SMITHSo a lot of schools that have closed, schools that have opened, schools that have moved. And as a result, our current tangle of boundaries and feeder patterns is just not workable for a lot of families, creates lots of confusion in the process. And we've got schools that are overcrowded, kids who don't have access to the schools that are right near them because of closed schools and changes and boundaries that have just been sort of stuck together over the years.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Abigail Smith give us a call at 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. Can we go through, as quickly as possible, the proposals, one by one. So-called proposal A seems to be the one that differs the most from the current system. What does that call for?
SMITHSo let me just say a little bit about the proposals, Kojo. So what we have done as an advisory committee, which is the group that's been shepherding this process throughout, is we've looked at a whole range of how one might approach student assignment. And there are lots of different elements that can be part of an overall student assignment policy.
SMITHSo the advisory committee looked at many of those different elements and put together what we're terming three policy examples of how you could put those elements together in a coherent policy so that the community could understand what that might look like from pre-K to 12 and understand it all together. That said, our expectation is that we're not choosing among policy example A, B and C.
SMITHWe wanted to provide three examples so people can see how these things fit together, but we imagine that we'll probably end up with example D, E, F or X, Y, Z once people figure out what pieces of this seem workable to them, seem like they resolve some of the challenges that we have.
SHERWOODIt seems, in the most fundamental way, that people who have children in schools, whether they're just starting or in middle school going forward, want a simple system. They want to go to an elementary school in their neighborhood. They want to go into a middle school, which they recognize can't be as close as an elementary school because they are larger.
SHERWOODAnd the same with a high school. And I've talked to parents who are just, like, horrified that their students, getting to high school, may not be able to go to the school most convenient for them, but they'll have to travel across town, they'll spend hours traveling around. Why not make the schools better, rather than changing the boundaries?
SMITHSo you brought up a number of things in that, Tom. And we've certainly been hearing those things from the community.
SMITHSo one is this notion of predictability. And it is true that predictability is really important to families, knowing that they can expect -- knowing what they can expect in terms of where their kids are going to go for elementary, middle and high school. At the same time, families want to insure that they have access to high quality schools. And you touched on the piece around how can we insure that we're improving schools and insuring that they're a high quality?
SMITHThat work of improving schools is the daily work of schools right now. DCPS is working hard to do that at the school level, communities are supporting that. The DCPS central office and under the chancellor's leadership is working to do that. In the meantime, families want to know that they can have access to high quality schools. And for some families they feel like they've got that right now. And some families don't.
SMITHAnd so while that predictability and proximity to home is certainly a value that many people share, it, in some cases, is in conflict with insuring that there's some access to schools that may not be your neighborhood schools if you're not right now confident in those schools.
SHERWOODYeah, it just seemed -- I just talked to parents and I know parents go to out-of-boundary schools and they work hard to get their children from one to -- and let's just say it, to get into Alice Deal and Wilson High School, but they say the reason they do that, because they go to those extraordinary lengths is because they do not have the same opportunities in the middle schools in the other parts of the city, make the Capitol Hill the exception or across the river, east end of the city.
SHERWOODAnd I'm just wondering -- I don't understand why they can't be -- these are not more in tandem, that you make all the -- spend more money. The weighted-school formula could be changed so that schools who will get more money, based on the social economic conditions of the schools where they are, or they have more staff, more everything to make those schools function rather then making the parents move their kids across town to go to a, what you call, a quality school.
SMITHSo you're absolutely right that all of...
SHERWOODAnd I don't see why that takes a long time.
SMITHSo if I had a magic wand and could wave it and make sure that all of our schools were at a quality today that every single parent would be thrilled at, I would have used that magic wand. And so would you have.
SHERWOODWhat's keeping -- what's keeping it from…
SMITHI think that there's…
SHERWOODIs it money? Is it time?
SMITHSo there is a lot of work that's happening right now and we've seen lots of improvements in our school system across the city and in individual schools. The piece that you talked about, about resources, is something that we are really focused on. And one of the things that's in the new student formula that we have just rolled out for the upcoming fiscal year is an at-risk weight, that does target additional dollars to schools that are serving really high-need kids.
SMITHSo those are things that are underway. There are lots of improvements at all of our schools, elementary, middle and high. At the same time, as that work is ongoing, we want to make sure that our student assignment system is both workable for families. And again, there's some practical issues, but also fair.
NNAMDIWhen you say you can't wave a magic wand, what you're saying -- what I am hearing -- it might not be what you're saying -- it's certainly what I'm hearing -- is that improving a school is not as simple as throwing money at the school and that improving a school is not necessarily as rapid as some of us may want it to happen.
SMITHYeah, I think that's right. And we certainly see that change can happen. And we want that change to be faster and faster, but we know that it can't happen overnight.
SHERWOODBut I don't think throwing money at schools -- I don't mean just to, sorry, to suggest that, but I'm thinking at a school that doesn't have a librarian, it's not throwing money at a school to have a full-time librarian on the staff, as opposed to having a librarian who trundles around like some itinerant preacher, from school to school.
SHERWOODIt's not throwing money at the schools to have a physical education teacher or coach in a school where children need more exercise. It's not throwing money at schools to put resources in the schools. I just don't understand why it cannot be done.
SMITHWell, you're absolutely right. And that's why every DCPS elementary and middle school does have that art and music and P.E. and librarian that you talked about. That's a standard that DCPS has put in place.
SHERWOODWeren't the librarians cut? I don't want to get too much in the weeds here, but weren't the librarians cut back?
SMITHWell, librarians actually were added to schools this last year. And it is true that not every school has a full-time of each of those positions, depending upon the enrollment of the school. But all of those schools…
SHERWOODIt seems to me if you have those -- if you have a full-time librarian, since reading is fundamental, and you have those -- then the people would come to the schools. They don't come to the schools because they're not -- they don't offer the resources that you can get at Alice Deal.
SMITHI think that you will see that across all of DCPS's schools there is a certain baseline expectation of what is offered that includes those things. You're right that Alice Deal, with 1,000 kids, can provide more diversity of programming than a middle school that has 200 kids. And so that's one of the challenges. And one of the things that we're looking at in terms of the student assignment policy. How do we insure that we can support all of our schools with the kinds of programming that they need?
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Don your headphones please, because Mark, in Washington, D.C., would like to have words with you. Mark, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARKHi. Thank you for having on the show. I have been listening to the comments. I also attended the event at Coolidge. And I'm definitely a supporter of most of the elements of Plan B. And I guess one of the things that a lot of parents that I've been talking to is the sense of urgency -- and I still don't have a lot of clarity as to why it has to be inside of this timeline. And I don't think anybody questions that the system could be improved, but there are things that are working very well currently in some of the schools that will be affected.
MARKAnd also to understand why there's not more of a comprehensive view of this reform that touches the Office of Planning, the Department of Transportation, because so much of this, in terms of the quality of school, isn't just about the schools. And so if you could speak to why it needs to be done so quickly, and it doesn't seem to be involving parents' input to this.
SMITHThanks, Mark. So one, glad that you were at the event Coolidge and hope that you will continue to engage in this process. I would say a couple things about the timeline. One is that while it might seem like this is all of a sudden to folks, the fact that we haven't done this in a comprehensive way since 1968 tells me that we haven't rushed this at some level. So it is time to look at these issues. And we have what is a year-long process that we're engaged in.
SMITHSo we're about halfway through that. We've had a lot of parent engagement to this point. And I know we'll have lots more as we have more concrete proposals on the table that people have a chance to react to. So to this point over 1,000 folks have come to community meetings over the last few months, which is great. In terms of how we think about how this intersects with other parts of city planning, I think you raise a really good point. We have members from the Office of Planning on our advisory group.
SMITHAnd, in fact, Ellen McCarthy, who was just named as the new director of the Office of Planning, was already sitting on our advisory group as a community member. So has all of that context already of the work that we're doing, as she's going into that role as Office of Planning, because we do need to connect all of those things.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We never got to talk really about what these examples, as you call them, A, B and C called for. Is there any way you can give us a synopsis of that fairly quickly?
SMITHSure. So all of the policy examples at elementary have some kind of established boundary for elementary schools. So two of the policies have a very traditional one to one, so you have an elementary school that's assigned to you by virtue of where you live -- which is what most kids have now in D.C., although because of closures, some kids have rights to multiple elementary schools.
SMITHPolicy example "A" thinks about that boundary as a somewhat larger boundary. So it's still based geographically, but there'd be multiple schools within that boundary, and what we call a choice set. So you'd have the opportunity to choose among those. The things that I think are -- Mark talked about policy example "B", which I think is appealing to a lot of people. It has a boundary and feeder system that has that one to one relationship between elementary, middle, and high for each kid.
SMITHSo you'd have a right to one school. And then builds feeder patterns that align with that. Right now our feeder patterns actually bear only passing connection to the boundaries. So there are lots of situations where an elementary school might be outside of the boundary of the middle school that it feeds into currently. This is would align those boundaries and feeder patterns so that there would be more cohesive connection.
SMITHAnd then, "C" -- both "A" and "C" at the high school level include some form of broader citywide high school choice. So in one scenario, in example "A," it's the high school choice, but with a proximity preference. So you'd have a preference for the high school that's closest to you, but kids would have the opportunity to access schools across the city. Whereas policy example "C" actually has just citywide high school choice. And would not have a proximity preference.
SHERWOODWhat do you mean by choice? Choice sounds like, Oh, good, I get to decide, but in one of these -- I've forgotten with the "A, B and C" -- in the high schools would be -- all students going into high school would just be simply input into an lottery. So if I lived near Wilson High School, across the street from Wilson, under one of these scenarios I might get Roosevelt or I might get Cardoza or I might get some other school, right? How does that student get there?
SMITHIn terms of transportation?
SHERWOODAnd that doesn't sound like choice to me. That sounds like the luck of the draw.
SHERWOODI think choice is the wrong word that you guys use.
SMITHSo I understand that point and I think that choice can be a problematic word for people, because it feels like you get to pick and in some cases…
SHERWOODYeah, choice, yeah, I know what choice means.
SMITHYeah, so I understand that sort of nomenclature issue. The notion is that for the citywide high school scenario, is that students would be able to say, all right. Given my preferences, including, you know, potentially the geographic preferences, but also the kinds of programming that's offered, if there's specialized programs at schools, they would rank the schools that they want to attend. And it is true that if everybody wanted to attend one school and that school was out of capacity, then you would go down to the next one on your list.
SHERWOODWhat parent in Shepherd Park, Northwest Washington, off of 16th Street, is going to have his child or her child say, okay. I want to go to Ballou, only because of the distance to Ballou and far Southeast Washington, Ward 8. Who's going to write that as their choice?
SMITHSo I obviously I can't answer that question without asking all them.
SHERWOODNo one. The answer would be no one.
SMITHI think that what we see is that kids already are traveling a lot at high school. And we have, in fact, I mean, even if you look at Wilson right now, where the boundary is, as you know, almost half of the city's landmass. It's a very large boundary. And you still have about 40 percent of kids who are coming from out of that boundary. There are certainly lots of kids who are out of boundary in other schools, too.
SMITHIn part, because of the sort of -- what I talked about -- the sort of confusing mix of feeders and boundaries. But in part because kids are choosing different schools.
SHERWOODI think -- I respect what you're trying to do. I think there's almost a fantasy element to part of this, glossing over what parents will actually do with their children.
NNAMDIHere's Deeda (sp?) , in Washington, D.C. Deeda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DEEDAHi, Kojo. Thanks. And thanks to Deputy Mayor Smith for being on so that -- to be able to get this feedback today. So I'm a parent. I'm outside on my lunch hour right now. Working mom with kids in public school in Washington, D.C. And a couple of -- one quick question, is why were the meetings not open? Because it feels like there's just this huge data dump and you're saying this has been going on for a while, but, you know, there's a lot of parent engagement right now because we're all saying, where on Earth did this come from?
DEEDAAnd the meeting I went to and a lot of chatter in my school is, you know, parents talk about predictability, but there's this issue of, you know, people wanting to know, you know, not just like our my kids going to get to stay in their school and go to the, you know, the feeder pattern into the other schools, but it's like what about the kids behind me?
DEEDABut then I've been hearing people talk about, oh, grandfather clause. And I just find it ironic that you're having this discussion today, when it's 50-year signing of the Civil Rights Act, and talk about grandfathering, that's from Jim Crow laws to, you know, insure black voter suppression. And it's like this whole issue in the school set that we want quality schools for every child, but please do not break what's working to fix what's broken.
SMITHSo in terms of the process, I know that a lot of people are engaging in this sort of for the first time now, as we have lots more information out there. The reality is we've also had lots of engagement with community over the last number of months, in terms of where we've been all along in this process. So I know it does feel like we dumped a lot of information on people. One of the things that I said at this last round community meetings to everyone is we're giving you too much information right now for any one person to digest in a -- even a three-hour community meeting, which is what we had over this last week.
SMITHBut we rather give people more information and have everyone have access to the same kinds of data and policy ideas that the advisory committee is wrestling with, than to hold anything back. So it is a lot right now. And this is the time for us to all wrestle with it together. I know there are a lot of things that people have had very strong reactions to. And what I keep emphasizing with everyone is these are proposals that we think that we, as a community, need to talk about together.
SMITHAnd we could come out with one final refined, shiny proposal and see people's reactions to it. We think we're going to get a much better result if we bring out a number of different ideas.
NNAMDIAllow me to have a caller who has a specific question about this. Ellen, in Washington, D.C. Ellen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ELLENHi, Kojo and Abigail. I'm a mom on Capitol Hill. And I'm in a neighborhood where under Choice "A," in its current iteration at any rate, you've paired a couple of schools where the average test scores are more than 20 points a part. So, I mean, this is Maury and Payne and Brent and Tyler. My question is, do you really expect parents who would be pushed from a higher performing school, significantly higher, to a lower performing one to actually go?
ELLENI picture these folks going charter or going independent, going to the burbs. At least in the upper elementary grades because these are middle class families who can and will vote with their feet. So I'd just like you to talk a little bit about that arrangement…
ELLEN…and why you proposed it?
SMITHSo, Ellen, you're raising, you know, again, a point that certainly a lot of folks have raised and we think this is really important feedback, trying to understand what parents are interested in and what they think they'd be willing to do. One of the things that the choice sets does allow is some more ability to -- for families to access some of the specialized programming that exists in certain parts of the city.
SMITHSo in the choice set that you just talked about, Tyler Elementary, for example, has a dual-language program that is very popular. And one of the things that makes the choice sets interesting to some folks is that it allows more access to those kinds of programs for people who live nearby.
SMITHSo rather than having to sort of throw in with everyone else to sort of go across the city to a program like that, you would have an increased ability to stay closer to home. That said, people have raised the concerns that you've raised on the choice sets and that's exactly why we're having these conversations.
SHERWOODMuriel Bowser, the Democratic candidate for mayor, has said -- kind of taken two different views of this. On the one hand she says she thinks she can support choice sets, on the other hand she wants more predictability. A parent who's not sure where his or her child is going to go is not going to have that kind of predictability. So I'm not -- we'll, still in the campaign, figure out more about what would-be mayor Bowser wants.
SHERWOODDavid Catania has been a little firmer about this. He says that you ought to push the pause button and delay this while you're working -- all the work you're doing to improve the schools is more important, he says, than making those artificial boundary changes because there's so much out of boundary charter schools and all that. He says the focus ought to be on changing the schools, not changing the boundaries and push the pause button. Comment on either one of those positions?
SHERWOODI know I'm trying to draw you into the mayor's race, but, you know, it will be -- and maybe the most significant issue in this -- assuming that they ever get together to debate.
SMITHWell, first of all, I appreciate that both Councilmember Bowser and Councilmember Catania are engaging in this process. We welcome their feedback, as everybody else's. I think that recognizing that, you know, they're both pointing out some of the challenges and tensions that we have. So there is…
SHERWOODAnd their inconsistencies.
SMITHWell, there's an inherent tension in some ways between predictability and access to high quality schools. And for some families who, right now -- everybody has predictability right now, but not everybody's happy with the predictability that they have a guarantee to. And so I think we just have to recognize that that's a reality. Now, I know that a couple of callers have talked about let's not mess with something that's working.
SMITHAnd I think that's a very, very real issue. That for families who are happy with the system, clearly they don't want that change. And I understand that. And we don't want to make things more difficult for families who currently are happy with what they've got.
SHERWOODI think that's kind of the fundamental concern which people are expressing. There are people happy with the situation they have, but then you acknowledge and what people know there are many schools and many parents where people aren't happy. But is the answer then, is to take the average and make -- people are concerned and they say to me that you are -- why don't you just bus kids to school and change the school system around.
SHERWOODJust do bussing. And of course, bussing, I say that somewhat facetiously because bussing was so controversial. But if you're trying to get a socioeconomic mix and change things around, why not just do it more directly?
SMITHWell, there are lots of different ways that we have right now in our system to allow access, through out of boundaries, you talked about, through feeder rights that we have. I think that is the right thing for us to do, as a community, to step back and have a conversation. Are we doing this as well as we can?
SMITHAnd these are really hard conversations because they do involve -- and I put this out here again and again in my conversations -- they involve issues of race and class. They involve issues of people who can afford to insure that their predictability is something they'd like by virtue of where they live. And I think we can't shy away from having this conversation as a city.
SHERWOODSo then are…
SHERWOODMay I just say, follow up that sentence? So are you trying to reach some kind of socioeconomic balance?
SMITHI'm trying to insure that we, as a community, are involved together in a conversation around what our students' assignment policies are. There's some practical considerations that we just -- that we have to address. But I think at the same time it's an opportunity to think about how this can be connected to a fair system and a system that supports quality for everybody.
NNAMDIMy experience has been that parents do not accept the rationale that we will be improving this school. So is this proposal intended to make available more seats in quality schools as soon as possible?
SMITHSo some of the things that have come out of this proposal are focused on exactly that point, Kojo. So there are a couple of specific ideas that have emerged that I think have gotten some traction for certain communities. One is this conversation about a selective middle school, particularly placing it east of the river. And to provide opportunity for families that are looking for that level for rigor to have a selective option at the middle school, which we don't have anywhere in the city now.
SMITHAnother is looking at whether there are magnet programs that can be incomprehensive high school. So they still would be comprehensive high schools, in that case and neighborhood schools, but you'd have an opportunity to have some kind of specialized programming. So those are some things I think that have been part of the conversation that can help support this move towards quality.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have. Abigail Smith, this is clearly a continuing conversation, so I'll expect to be talking to you about it again sometime in the near future.
SMITHThank you so much, Kojo.
SHERWOODAnd can I just say, I respect the effort of trying to get the schools to be something that every parent wants to send his or her child to. It just seems to me that we're playing Chinese checkers when we should be playing checkers.
NNAMDIWhat exactly would that…
SHERWOODWhat that means is it would simplify the system a lot more than the…
NNAMDII was pretty good at Chinese checkers.
SMITHYes. I've heard the checkers and chess. I didn't know the Chinese checkers one.
SHERWOODWell, I'm trying to keep it in the same words.
NNAMDIWe're -- Abigail Smith, thank you so much for joining us.
SMITHThank you so much.
NNAMDIAbigail Smith is the deputy mayor for education in the District of Columbia. Tom, what…
SHERWOODAnd I like Chinese checkers.
NNAMDI…what is going on in Arlington, Va., where for decades they've been electing exclusively Democrats to the Arlington County Council, but not so much this last go around. And I don't know if I'm pronouncing this name correctly, but it John Vihstadt.
NNAMDI...Vihstadt, a Republican who was running as an independent, upset Democrat Alan Howze in a low-turnout race for the Arlington County Board. It looks as if the Arlington County voters were sending a message here that one party rule, as it exists to a large extent both in the District of Columbia and in Maryland, is not going to be working here in Arlington County anymore.
SHERWOODWell, I think the larger message that was sent is that people didn't vote. It was a special election just to finish out the term of Chris Zimmerman. Sixteen percent of the people voted, 16 percent. That made us look pretty good in the District with our 22, 23 percent.
NNAMDIWe had 23 -- 23, yeah.
SHERWOODAnd the Democrat Alan Howze has a really strong record in the county. And many people thought he would win because he is a Democrat. And -- but John Vihstadt said there's, you know, the million-dollar bus stop and the streetcar line. There's just lots of issues. But I think these two -- this election is going to be replayed again in November, so I don't think we should draw a great moment from the outcome of this election until we see if it can be replicated in November.
NNAMDIJoining us in studio now is Brian Frosh. He is a member of the Maryland Senate, a Democrat from Montgomery County. He's also a Democratic candidate for attorney general of Maryland. Sen. Frosh, thank you for joining us.
SEN. BRIAN FROSHHi, Kojo. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIIf you have comments or questions for Brian Frosh, give us a call at 800-433-8850. Or you can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. A lot happened in Annapolis this year. A lot more will be happening for you in the weeks ahead as things get more intense in your primary for attorney general.
NNAMDIBut let's focus for a second on the general assembly, first. This was Martin O'Malley's last session as governor. What do you make of what you accomplished in Annapolis this year? And how would you describe the legacy that O'Malley might be leaving behind as mayor?
FROSHWell, we did some very good stuff this session. A lot of it -- I chair the Judicial Proceedings Committee. A lot of it...
FROSH...came through there. We passed some important domestic violence legislation. I was the sponsor. And it gives greater protections to victims of domestic violence. I had dinner last summer with a judge from the Superior Court in D.C. And she said to me, what's up with Maryland? I keep getting women who have fled from Maryland to D.C. because they can't get the kind of protection they need.
FROSHIn Maryland, our standard for giving someone a final protective order was too high. We required clear and convincing evidence to prove it. No other state in the country does. We've lowered that standard to preponderance of the evidence, a normal civil standard, and it will mean much greater protection for victims of domestic violence.
SHERWOODAnd when would that go into effect?
FROSHIt goes into effect, I think, June 1. The governor has to sign it, but it goes into effect June 1.
SHERWOODCan I just go right to politics?
NNAMDIGo right to politics.
SHERWOODYou're running for attorney general.
SHERWOODAnd the attorney general, current -- Mr. Gansler's running for governor. Have you picked sides in the governor's race?
FROSHNo. You know...
FROSHNo, I won't. The attorney general really ought to be independent. The attorney general needs to be able to say no to the governor. And Steve Sachs, who was first elected attorney general in 1978, was the first person in the 20th century not to run with -- on a ticket with a gubernatorial candidate. I think that's the right policy decision. And -- so I'm going to run independently and will serve independently.
SHERWOODSo it's not any characterization of the two candidates, Lt. Gov. Brown or Doug Gansler?
FROSHNo. No. Nor Heather Mizeur.
NNAMDIWell, let me get...
SHERWOODOr Heather Mizeur, thank you.
NNAMDI...back to the attorney general race now before we talk more about what happened in the Senate. What would you say are the central differences between you and the other Democratic candidates looking for the party's nomination in this primary for attorney general?
FROSHWell, I think people need to look at our records. The attorney general is someone who needs experience, skill, and judgment to run the biggest law firm in the state, be the people's lawyer. That's...
NNAMDII should mention that you're facing two opponents in the primary, Delegate Aisha Braveboy and...
SHERWOODOf Prince George's County.
NNAMDI...of Prince George's County and Delegate Jon Cardin of Baltimore County. Go ahead.
FROSHThat's right. And if you look at what we've accomplished in the general assembly, if you look at what we've accomplished as attorneys -- because it's important to have a skilled attorney, an attorney with judgment, run the biggest law firm in the state -- I've got a record of fighting against gun violence -- I was the architect of the Firearm Safety Act that passed last year, the toughest in the nation -- law, numerous environmental initiatives, the Maryland Recycling Act, the law that stopped the oil companies from drilling for oil and gas in the bay, many legislative accomplishments that I think set me apart from both of them.
FROSHAnd also, I've been in the private practice law for more than 35 years. I was today elected to the American Law Institute, which the other member from Maryland, who was elected today, was the chief judge of our court of appeals, Mary Ellen Barbera. So I've been recognized as an accomplished attorney, so I think on both scores.
NNAMDIYou've acknowledged the challenges this far of running against someone with such a big name as Ben Cardin in Maryland politics.
FROSHWell, it's his nephew. It's not Ben Cardin that I'm running against.
NNAMDIIt's -- you're running against Jon Cardin.
NNAMDISee, that's the mistake that -- I just made as the mistake of all the potential voters.
SHERWOODThat's what he's worried about people doing on the ballot.
NNAMDIExactly. Exactly right.
FROSHThat's exactly right.
NNAMDII'd probably make a -- how are you going to go about introducing yourself to people outside of those who know you in your district and make a case against a person who is, at the very least, related to one of the more popular names in Maryland politics.
FROSHRight. Well, you know, none of the offices in Maryland are hereditary. But if -- in each case where folks have heard us and heard us make us our cases, they've selected me. Just this week, the Columbia Democratic Club in Howard County voted to endorse me, and I had more than eight times as many votes as Delegate Cardin -- same with the young Democrats.
FROSHI only had a four times advantage in that one. But the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, the National Organization for Women, and many other organizations -- every major organization that has let us make our cases to them has endorsed me.
SHERWOODCan I -- it sounds like Anthony Brown. You've got more money. You've got more endorsements.
FROSHI'm hoping that'll be the path to victory.
SHERWOODThis fall, we'll see.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. Our guest is Brian Frosh. He's a member of the Maryland Senate. He's a Democrat from Montgomery County. He's also a Democratic candidate for attorney general. If you'd like to ask him about the last session of the general assembly, feel free to do so -- or if you want to ask him political questions about his candidacy. Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODI'll ask one that fits both of those, and that's the minimum wage. Everyone, the governor on down, is breaking their arms, patting themselves on the back for raising the minimum wage to $10.10 by the year 2018.
SHERWOODAnd it seemed to me, that is the slowest approach in the country. I know in the District, in Prince George's, and I think Montgomery County...
FROSHAnd Montgomery County.
SHERWOOD...it's -- I know the District is 11.50 by 2016, I believe. Well, I don't quite know why the Democrats in Maryland are congratulating themselves for such a slow walk to a decent minimum wage.
FROSHWell, I agree with you. The walk is too slow for me. I supported a much rapider phase-in. I support the 11.50 that we did in Montgomery -- that Montgomery County Council did. And that's disappointing. But we did make progress. And anybody who works 40 hours a week ought to have enough to live on. You can't do that with minimum wage as it is, so at least we're moving it up.
SHERWOODWithin this listening audience, it's pretty good. When will the voters get to go to a forum where you and Braveboy and Cardin might appear at the same time? Do you have one on your calendar? Or how could we find out, go to your website? Or is there someplace where we can find out where these forums are?
FROSHYes. Yes. You can go to brianfrosh.com. You can find out where we're appearing together. You can find out where I'm going...
SHERWOODAnd are you encouraging forums? I know we're having an issue here in town about how many forums we might have for the mayor's race.
FROSHYeah. We haven't -- we've had a number, and we've got a bunch more scheduled.
NNAMDIWhere do you see things headed with marijuana in Maryland? The bill the governor has said he would sign decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana. Your colleague, Mike Miller, said earlier this year that he sees legalization as inevitable. What do you see?
FROSHWell, I think that's -- I think Mike Miller is an historian, and I think if you put it in historical context, you can see us in the same place the country was in the few years before prohibition ended in the United States. We're lucky in Maryland that we're going to be able to get to watch the laboratories in Colorado and Washington State, see how it works in those jurisdictions before we make that step.
NNAMDIAnd Mike Miller's not only a historian, but he might also be a predictor of the future. He said, I know where people are going to be a generation or two from now.
SHERWOODIt won't be a generation necessarily.
NNAMDIExactly right. Might be a shorter time than that.
FROSHI think that's right. I mean, we took a very important step this year. The Judicial Proceedings Committee that I chair crafted the legislation. Bobby Zirkin from Baltimore County was the author. The Senate passed the bill last year, and it failed in the House. And it was exciting that it got through this year. But it's an important step forward. We arrest about 30,000 people a year for simple possession of small amounts of marijuana, and it's a waste of our resources. And it ruins lives, so...
SHERWOODIs there any ratio, economic breakdown of the people who get arrested?
SHERWOODIn the District of Columbia, you know, the young African-American males were being arrested far more in 90 percent of the cases as opposed to the people out back of this building or something.
FROSHYeah. It's 3-to-1 -- and 3-to-1 African-Americans getting arrested. And the use is demographically the same. I mean, the same proportion of people who are not African-American are smoking marijuana as those who are.
NNAMDIDon your headphones, please, because Laura in Silver Spring, Md. has a question or comment for you. Laura, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LAURAThank you. Hello, Sen. Frosh.
LAURAI have a question about funding for Montgomery County school construction. The effort failed to pass in the last legislative session. And I would like to know, what are the Maryland senators going to do about this for next year? Because we are at -- next year, we'll be at 150 percent capacity at our elementary school. And within two years, we'll have 12 portables in the back of the school. And we'll have to have lunches from 10:30 in the morning all the way to 1:30 in the afternoon.
NNAMDIWhat have you done...
LAURAWe need funds now.
NNAMDIWhat have you done for your county lately?
FROSHYes. Well, I mean, it has been a...
SHERWOODSchool funding's a huge issue.
FROSHIt's been a continuing struggle for Montgomery County. And we have fought -- and fought successfully -- over the past couple of decades to increase school construction funding for Montgomery County. We get a greater share than most of the other jurisdictions because we have grown faster. But we're not getting there as fast as we need to.
SHERWOODDoug Duncan is running for county executive. And he's complained that Ike Leggett has...
NNAMDIHas not been aggressive enough.
SHERWOOD...has not been aggressive enough. Ike Leggett, of course, disagrees, but people are worried that the money is not coming, the money you need.
FROSHRight. Well, I mean, I think County Executive Leggett has done a good job. The legislation got caught up in a crossfire on the last night of the session, disputes over other bills, and some personal stuff perhaps, and it went down. But while I will not be in the Senate next year, I know that the Montgomery County Senate and House delegations will be fighting to ensure that the county gets the school construction money that it needs.
SHERWOODWhere were you on the "House of Cards" thing?
FROSHI was a skeptic. I supported one version.
SHERWOODI guess we should say the production company for "House of Cards" is looking for even greater tax breaks, yeah.
NNAMDITax break than it currently gets. And that did not pass.
FROSHI'm not a big fan of throwing money at corporations to keep them in the state. This one looked like it was worth an investment of something. I think what they were asking for was way out of line with the economic benefits that the state is likely to realize from it. On the other hand, we don't want to suffer a blow in public relations or in our appearance to the business community by letting them pack up and leave. So...
NNAMDIBut there was a great deal of talk about the amount of jobs these companies provide and how many more jobs they'd be able to provide. And people who oppose giving them greater tax breaks say the county could be spending its tax dollars to create those jobs themselves.
FROSHWell, that's right. I mean, I think if you...
NNAMDII mean, (unintelligible).
FROSHIf you looked at -- if you looked purely at how we might maximize the creation of new jobs, I don't think we would be investing it in tax credits for film companies or for filming in Maryland.
NNAMDIOn to Jenny in Laurel, Md. Jenny, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JENNY KALMANSONHi. My name is Jenny Kalmanson. I'm the vice president of the American Humanist Association and a constituent of your friend Jim Rosapepe. And I want to know where you stand on church-state separation.
NNAMDIExactly what do you mean by that?
KALMANSONWell, for example, the Carroll County recently had an issue where their county councilor was opening legislative sessions with a very sectarian prayer which violated, of course, the separation of church and state by establishing a bona fide, very Protestant sectarian religion in her county. And until she was outvoted by the rest of her county council, this was looking like it was going to be heading for court and something that I would hope Brian Frosh would have fought for the fight of separation.
FROSHYeah, absolutely, Jenny. In fact, we had a select committee on prayer in the Maryland Senate a number of years ago. And I was on it. We make sure that the prayers that open our Senate sessions are non-sectarian. And it's an important principle. Everybody has to understand there are people of many faiths that are members of the Senate and...
NNAMDIEnough so that you had a Select Committee on prayer?
SHERWOODOh, well, this is a huge -- you know, that's a big issue in the -- I'm not sure why every government organization simply doesn't do a moment of silence which allows any person to do anything that he or she wants, including planning their grocery list if they don't have anything to pray for.
NNAMDIThere was an effort to reform Maryland's system for bail hearings in this past session.
NNAMDIIt fell short. What were those bills designed to do? And where do things go from here?
FROSHWell, I think we missed an opportunity there. We -- our court of appeals passed an order that said that we have to provide representation for defendants at two levels of bail review. We're one of the few states in the country that has a system that does it twice. We had an opportunity to reform the system, to streamline it, and to make better decisions. There are risk assessment tools that have been developed.
FROSHThe Arnold Foundation has one that's been tested across a million and a half cases. And it's a scientific tool that predicts whether somebody is likely to show up for his trial or her trial and/or likely to offend if they're released before trial. It predicts better than human beings, in most cases, I mean, on average. All systems make mistakes.
NNAMDIOnly have about a minute left.
FROSHWe're not able to get a bill passed this year that would have streamlined our system and put a scientific tool in place, but the governor's headed in that direction.
NNAMDIThe SEIU keeps tweeting.
SHERWOODYes, I got that, too.
NNAMDI"Let Sen. Frosh know of our endorsement deal." (unintelligible).
SHERWOODThey did it today. This happened today.
FROSHIt just happened today, and I'm very proud of it.
NNAMDIBut you knew about it.
FROSHI got word of it. Yes, I did.
NNAMDIOkay. He's heard about it, SEIU. You can stop tweeting now. You have a final question?
SHERWOODI've got four from (unintelligible).
FROSHNo, tweet to everybody.
NNAMDIYou got a final question? You got about 40 seconds.
SHERWOODActually, not one you can answer in that time. But I'm just anxious to see the people who are running for public office appear together, so people can get a better understanding of what they're doing.
FROSHWe like debates.
SHERWOODAnd -- okay.
NNAMDIBrian Frosh, he is a member of the Maryland Senate. He's a Democrat from Montgomery County. He's also a Democratic candidate for attorney general of Maryland. Sen. Frosh, thank you for joining us. Good luck to you.
FROSHThanks for having me, Kojo. Tom, good to see you.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter for NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers.
SHERWOODAnd I'm going downtown to talk to the Downtown Business Improvement (word?).
NNAMDIAnd we have had some very special visitors today. So Naima, (sp?) Nazira, (sp?) and Hasan, thank you all for joining us. Those are my grandchildren. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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