The D.C. Board of Education last night approved the superintendent's school construction proposal that calls for replacing or rebuilding seven senior high schools and repairing more than a dozen other schools with new roofs, windows and heating systems.
By a 7 to 1 vote, with one abstention, board members adopted what School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey called a transition budget. Janey said the budget is an interim step until his staff completes a "master education plan," later this year. The comprehensive study of the school system will determine the educational programs needed citywide as well as which schools should be closed or consolidated in light of an enrollment decline.
Janey said he would introduce another school construction plan in April 2006 that would be based on the system's identified needs.
In approving Janey's $639.6 million plan, which will be submitted to Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), the board rejected a counterproposal offered by board member William Lockridge (District 4) that attempted to maintain the thrust of a 2000 capital plan that called for the modernization of dozens of schools over 20 years.
Janey's initial proposal to repair the windows and roofs of the most dilapidated schools prompted anger and frustration throughout the city because it was thought to represent a dramatic retrenchment from the 2000 plan, which sought to reconstruct dozens of antiquated elementary schools and high schools with state-of-the-art buildings and additions.
City officials cut construction funding from $174.9 million this year to $150 million next year, dropping it to $98 million annually from 2007 to 2011. Janey developed the scaled-down proposal after determining that the new funding levels would not sustain the more ambitious project.
But Janey offered a compromise in his revised proposal, trying to accommodate parents who expressed a desire at community meetings to see more high schools upgraded.
The senior high schools that would be modernized are Anacostia, Cardozo, Coolidge, Roosevelt, School Without Walls, Wilson and H.D. Woodson. The proposal also would finance replacement of roofs, heating and air conditioning systems, electrical systems, restrooms and windows at about 19 other schools.
"When you have short money, you can't do everything you can for everyone," Janey said last night.
"It's high time we give more attention to our high schools and see them as gateways to the workplace . . . or to higher education," he said.
The plan also calls for modernizing Walker-Jones and Turner elementary schools with money that the system would seek through public-private partnerships.
"I think it gets us through a transition period [to a point] where we can look at a more aggressive facilities plan for the District," said school board member Robin B. Martin.
But Lockridge and fellow board member Tommy Wells (District 3) said Janey's proposal was shortchanging students at the schools scheduled for modernization under the 2000 plan.
"We all strongly support Dr. Janey. What I don't support is the idea Dr. Janey talked about in making a plan based on short money," Wells said. "What I want are schools that are competitive with the suburbs."
Janey said the school construction plan he develops next year would provide a "seamless connection" from kindergarten to 12th grade. For instance, he said, students interested in math and science should be able to attend elementary, middle and high schools catering to their needs anywhere in the city.