The Washington Post

D.C. Council members react to school closings

D.C. Council members will have a chance Wednesday to question Chancellor Kaya Henderson about her plan to close 15 city schools.

Henderson is scheduled to testify before the council’s new education committee at noon in Room 412 at the John A. Wilson Building.

The chancellor told council members in a briefing last week that she would spend most of her time discussing an analysis that helped shape school-closure decisions.

The study was prepared by Education Resource Strategies, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization. Henderson has spoken about the analysis only glancingly during public debate over school closures, referring to it briefly during a D.C. Council hearing last fall.

DCPS has so far declined to release the ERS study, saying it is not ready for public release; The Post’s request for the document, submitted under the Freedom of Information Act, is pending.

The contents of the analysis are unclear, but Henderson told council members that the study answers many of the questions raised by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, a nonprofit that recently released a report concluding that closing schools would result in no substantial savings next year.

Levy’s report also concluded that small schools don’t spend significantly more per pupil than larger schools, and that class sizes are likely to rise after schools are consolidated.

Henderson said last week that she expects the school closures to save $8.5 million annually. But that doesn’t account for the costs of closing schools and moving furniture and materials. Nor does it account for providing students with bus transportation, which DCPS has promised in some cases.

The closure of 23 D.C. schools in 2008 cost nearly $18 million, according to an audit released in August — far more than the $9.7 million that was initially reported by the school system.

Henderson told reporters last week that DCPS has learned from earlier mistakes and will be able to avoid millions of dollars in closing costs this time around. She may be asked to explain further on Wednesday; David Catania (I-At Large), chairman of the council’s 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.

The chancellor won some fans on the council when she decided to spare five of the 20 schools she had initially proposed for closure.

Jack Evans, whose two Ward 2 schools were among those to remain open, called the chancellor “fair and “very open and accessible,” while Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) praised Henderson (yet again!) for improving upon the closures conducted by her predecessor, Michelle Rhee — “the worst process I’ve ever seen in my life,” Barry said.

But the chancellor also drew ire, including from Yvette Alexander (D), whose Ward 7 is home to four of the 15 schools to be closed.

The 2008 closures were supposed to strengthen remaining schools, Alexander said — but the school system invested little in Ward 7 schools to make them attractive choices for families.

The council member said she would demand that savings from the closures of her four schools — Ron Brown Middle, Kenilworth Elementary, Davis Elementary and Winston Education Campus — remain in Ward 7.

“I want to see art and 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,” she said.

Emma Brown writes about national education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.


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