Winners and losers in D.C. school renovation funding shift


Mayor Vincent Gray (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) is seeking to shift nearly $100 million in school capital funds for the current fiscal year, a move that would accelerate renovations at some schools and delay expected work at others.

One of the biggest winners is Powell Elementary in Petworth, which would receive nearly $20 million for an addition and major renovation. Powell has seen impressive growth in both student achievement and enrollment in recent years, and while part of its building was modernized last year, the school has more children than it can hold.

“I’m so grateful that all of Powell’s students will very soon be learning in a healthy, productive environment,” said Powell parent Martha Holley-Miers, adding that the increase “demonstrates that the entire city is behind our powerful Powell community, and invested in the growth and successes we have seen here.”

Other projects need more money than originally expected because the scope of work has expanded or because the District’s post-recession economy has driven up construction costs, said Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro.

Stanton Elementary in Southeast, for example, would receive an extra $11.2 million this year to do more renovation than had been previously planned, including an addition to accommodate the growing number of students. Stanton, like Powell, has drawn attention for its improving culture, academic performance and enrollment.

Other schools to see significant increases include Hearst Elementary ($6 million), Janney Elementary ($2 million), Deal Middle ($2.9 million), Marie Reed Elementary ($3 million) and Roosevelt High ($14.8 million), all in Northwest; Stuart-Hobson on Capitol Hill ($2.5 million); and Plummer Elementary ($4.4 million), Kramer Middle ($11.7 million) and Ballou High ($3.5 million), all in Southeast.

The city would also spend an additional $2.5 million to improve special-education classrooms around the city. Gray detailed his request to shift the funds in a letter Tuesday to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D); the request must be approved by the council before it is final.

Where there are winners, there are also losers — the money has to come from somewhere. For example, a partial renovation of Logan Circle’s Garrison Elementary, expected to take place this summer, would be pushed back to summer 2015.

That reverses the D.C. Council’s decision last spring to push Garrison’s renovation forward after parents — who mobilized to save the school from closure in 2012 — mounted a campaign to press for modernization.

“It’s unfortunate that the council got people’s hopes up,” said Ribeiro, Gray’s spokesman, who said the administration’s aim was to restore Garrison’s original position in the order of school modernizations.

Vanessa Bertelli, who has helped Garrison’s advocacy efforts, said she was disappointed and surprised. “I don’t understand what the whole budget process is about if once the entire council has agreed on something, then it gets changed again,” she said. “I find that amazing.”

Garrison has not been renovated since it was built in the 1960s and is showing its age; it also lacks an elevator and is not handicapped-accessible. The building was slated for a partial “Phase 1” renovation this year, but parents have been advocating for a full modernization, arguing that Garrison is a high-need school in a fast-growing part of the city — the kind of school that is most in need of full-scale remodeling, according to the Gray administration’s facilities plan.

“We agree everyone should be in a modern school,” Ribeiro said. “That being said, the District has x amount of money, x amount of schools, and there’s a balancing act.”

Other schools to see cuts include Garfield Elementary in Southeast, Amidon-Bowen Elementary in Southwest, Houston Elementary in Northeast and Payne Elementary on Capitol Hill. (Update: Amidon-Bowen saw only $6,700 in cuts.)

Orr Elementary in Southeast and West Education Campus in Northwest had both been scheduled for Phase 1 renovations this year. But both have open-space floor plans and and it is more efficient to fully overhaul them to take a piecemeal approach, said Ribeiro. Construction for those schools is targeted for 2016 and 2017.

The largest chunk of funds came from the redevelopment of the Skyland Shopping Center. More than $26 million in capital funds originally allocated to Skyland were freed up after another funding source became available for that project, Ribeiro said.

A $6 million grant meant for D.C. International, a 6th-12th grade school that is a joint effort of several language-immersion charter schools, has also been stripped in the wake of an opinion by the city’s attorney general that capital dollars cannot be granted to non-governmental entities. (Charter schools are nonprofits.)

Click here to read Gray’s letter in its entirety, including his explanations for each change. Here is a snapshot of the “winners” from the letter:


And here are the losers:



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