Washington Latin charter expected to move into old D.C. school building

July 17, 2012

Washington Latin Public Charter School, a standout in the city’s independent public education sector, would move into a shuttered D.C. public school building in Petworth under a deal city officials proposed this week.

The recommended 25-year lease on the old Rudolph Elementary School was announced by the Department of General Services and Deputy Mayor for Education De’Shawn Wright.

“From a public resource perspective as well as from a financial perspective, it makes no sense for us to hold onto buildings that DCPS has stated they have no use for,” Wright said Tuesday.

The lease, which requires D.C. Council approval, would give Washington Latin a coveted commodity in the charter sector: a long-term home. Charter schools are growing quickly — their students account for 41 percent of citywide public enrollment — but they often struggle to find suitable and affordable space.

“We are excited,” said Martita Fleming, director of operations for Washington Latin, which has about 600 students in grades 5 through 12. “It’s just going to be a great step forward for our program to have a permanent home in one location.”

The school opened in 2006 in a church and then moved to its current arrangement: three different properties along 16th Street Northwest in Ward 4. Older students sometimes walk three blocks to get from one class to the next.

They will get to learn under one roof at the old Rudolph site, on Second Street NW, as early as the 2013-14 school year. But first, that building — which was closed because of low enrollment in 2008 under then-Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee — will need millions of dollars in renovations.

Typically, a charter school receives a year’s free rent for each $1 million it invests in renovation, up to a maximum of 15 years, city officials said. Terms of Washington Latin’s lease are still to be worked out.

While a number of old D.C. public school buildings now house charter schools, others have been turned over to commercial developers or other city agencies — a source of frustration for charter advocates. The Department of General Services controls eight surplus public school buildings, including Rudolph, to which charter schools have the “right of first offer” under D.C. law.

City officials solicited bids for four of the buildings in April, and eight charter schools submitted proposals. Only Washington Latin was successful. The other seven applications were rejected, and the other three buildings — Young, J.F. Cook and Langston, all in Ward 5 — remain unassigned for now.

“It’s always a victory when any building gets awarded to a charter school in this town,” said Robert Cane, executive director of Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, a pro-charter group. “As for the other three, we’re really disappointed,” he said.

The unsuccessful applicants included DC Bilingual and Washington Yu Ying, which had both applied for the Rudolph site; Richard Wright, Eagle Academy and Washington Math Science Technology, which had applied for Young; and Mundo Verde and Booker T. Washington for a combined project at J.F. Cook and Langston.

Wright said the seven proposals failed for a range of reasons, including poor academic performance, inadequate financial capacity and incomplete paperwork. He said applicants will be able to hear critiques from city officials and submit revised proposals when solicitation for bids on the three buildings begins again in the next few weeks.

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