Democrats Seek To Mobilize Parents To Urge Building Plan

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The Democratic Policy Committee plans to use an avalanche of phone calls and electronic-mail messages from parents and school officials to help drive President Clinton's $5 billion school construction initiative through Congress.

The committee, part of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle's leadership panel, opened a special phone line and e-mail address last month and encouraged parents to send anecdotes about buildings that need repairs. The lawmakers have received 440 calls from parents and officials, and more than 400 e-mail messages.

Members will also use their influence to try to address complaints about specific problems from their constituents.

The panel fielded calls on problems from fire code violations to unsanitary restrooms to termite-infested floors. And rainy days can play havoc with some schools.

"Our school has been on the new roof list for many years. When it rains, we routinely call for buckets," wrote Maureen Denney Grayzeck, a parent and teacher from Prince George's County, Md. "Children have to be shifted in the room so they do not get dripped on or so they do not get hit with soggy tiles."

At Dalraida Elementary School in Montgomery, Ala., 860 students crowd into a building designed for 350. None of the 19 portable classrooms has a smoke detector, fire alarm, or running water, but all have leaky roofs, wrote parent Deborah Cole Speigner.

"When it rains, we have to triple-up the classrooms on the inside of the building to allow the outside children a dry area for the day," Ms. Speigner wrote.

Forging a Partnership

The two plans introduced in Congress, HR 1104 and S 456, would provide an interest subsidy for districts to build or renovate facilities.

Most of the $5 billion would be divided among the 100 districts with the highest percentage of poor students, and states would distribute most of the remainder to districts as they saw fit. ("Formula Targets Building Funds To Neediest Districts," March 26, 1997.)

Sen. Daschle, D-S.D., recently said he would use the complaints to forge a partnership between the federal government and local districts.

But critics, including many Republican education advocates, say that getting the federal government involved in a traditionally state and local issue would lead to higher costs and additional bureaucracy.

The Democrats also recently had asked school administrators to send pictures and videos of major construction problems to their representatives.

Senate Democratic aides planned to use the time off during Congress' spring recess this week to compile the calls, e-mails, and photos.

The committee's phone lines shut down this week, but the panel is still soliciting e-mail. The address is: [email protected]

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