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Mrs. Clinton tours school as district gets $18.4 million for repairs

BRIAN WITTEMarch 4, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Sixth-grader Rory Cherry was surprised to see Hillary Rodham Clinton in his classroom Tuesday morning, standing between him and a wall that is flaking away.

The first lady was surprised too, by the disrepair of Ketcham Elementary, an 88-year-old school with leaky roofs, moldy walls and plaster ceilings on the verge of collapse.

``I have seen better schools in cities and countries that are much poorer than the United States and the District of Columbia,″ Mrs. Clinton said.

The first lady’s tour marked the full privatization of the Construction Loan Insurance Program, which has bought all of the government’s shares in the program, netting $18.4 million for the district’s Financial Control Board to help the troubled school system.

The money will be channeled through the control board to the district’s financially strapped public school system for renovations and repairs. Despite this boost, the district needs an additional $37 million just to bring schools up to par so they can open on time in September, said the chief executive officer of the school system, retired Gen. Julius Becton.

At a news conference after the short tour, the city’s nonvoting congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, stressed that conditions in the district’s schools are emblematic of a national problem _ the lack of adequate resources for education.

``We are not in this by ourselves,″ Norton said. ``America’s schools are falling down. Our kids deserve better.″

Although Mrs. Clinton has visited several other schools in the district recently, this was the first time she received a tour showing a school’s structural decay.

Filled with about 520 children from preschool through 6th grade, the school ``is overdue for electrical, gutter, window and plumbing repairs,″ Mrs. Clinton said.

``Because of a persistently leaky roof, rainy days are something that are feared here at Ketcham,″ she added.

The first lady dropped in on the sixth-graders with Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, Education Secretary Richard Riley, Sens. Jim Jeffords, R-Vt., and Chris Dodd, D-Conn., Mayor Marion Barry and other city officials.

Last month, nearly 2,000 children in the district were bused to makeshift classrooms in churches and other buildings after a judge’s order shut down three public schools for fire code violations.

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