Thursday, February 02, 2006

School consolidation vote

The votes are in: DC's Board of Education has voted to eliminate [holding pinky up to the corner of mouth] 1 million square feet of excess space by the summer of 2007, and another million by the summer of 2008.
The board previously had supported a space-reduction plan in concept, directing Superintendent Clifford B. Janey to release in the spring a list of schools to be consolidated and closed.

But in passing a three-page resolution, board members for the first time specified the amount of space to be reduced. They said they wanted to demonstrate fiscal responsibility as the council prepares to consider a measure Tuesday that would provide more than $1.5 billion to modernize schools.

Board members said the space-reduction plan is aimed at improving lackluster student achievement. Money saved by consolidating and closing schools, they said, will be redirected to the classroom. Board members have said they would prefer not to sell any of the facilities.

"This will allow us to increase how much money per pupil goes into a school building," school board member Victor A. Reinoso (District 2) said after the meeting. "This will allow individual schools to hire more staff and invest in richer programs."

Yesterday's meeting was delayed by nearly 2 1/2 hours as board members worked out details of the resolution in a closed session.

The resolution requires that 1 million square feet of space be eliminated by July 1, 2007, and that the remaining 2 million be shed by July 1, 2008. Board members said some schools could be consolidated or closed as early as this year.

The freed-up space, board members said, could be leased to libraries, recreation centers, health care programs and public charter schools.
The vote was 8-0 for the resolution with board member William Lockridge absent.

Robert Crane of FOCUS had more to say in his Public Charter School Bulletin:
Although the Board evidently intends to vacate entire buildings, it will not follow past practice and shutter them, declare them surplus, and pass them to the mayor for disposition. Instead, the Board plans to keep control of all of its 150+ school buildings and fill them with "other public purposes, such as health care facilities, public libraries, recreation facilities, and co-location with charter schools."” As expected, nowhere in the resolution does the Board acknowledge that by law the charter schools are entitled to make the first offer on all excess space the Board gives up.

Even so, the Board'’s vote yesterday represents a major advance in the charter schools' drive to gain access to public school space. FOCUS has been pushing the Board for many years to give up space and repeatedly tried to enlist the mayor and Council (through the chair and the Education Committee) in the effort. The Board proved remarkably resistant to these pressures, steadfastly refusing to share space with charter schools except in emergency circumstances and not even admitting to controlling any excess space.

But with the introduction of the School Modernization Financing Act of 2005, which the full Council will begin considering next week, the pressure for DCPS to "“right-size"” in order to save money greatly intensified. Some Council members are skeptical about DCPSÂ’s ability to wisely spend the billions the bill would provide and would prefer that an independent “school construction trust” be set up to manage the funds and the facilities master plan. The BoardÂ’s action yesterday appears to be an attempt to demonstrate that it can responsibly manage the renovation program.

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