D.C. School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey is proposing a new school construction plan that would modernize seven senior high schools by 2011, providing them with either new buildings or additions.
The proposal, which he said he revised based on comments at several community meetings, marks a shift from a plan he submitted earlier this year to steer funds away from ambitious school modernizations and toward less costly repairs to help more schools.
Superintendent Clifford B. Janey is facing rebuke for the way he presented his plan to modernize schools.
The losers in his new proposal are elementary and middle schools, whose modernization schedules would be put on hold.
At issue is how the school system spends hundreds of millions of dollars in capital improvement funds over the next six years. School officials are revisiting a 20-year, $3.5 billion capital improvement plan approved in 2000 because the school system has been receiving smaller-than-expected annual appropriations from the D.C. Council and because some initial projects have cost more than anticipated.
Several school board members said yesterday that although they support aspects of Janey's new plan, he made a political miscalculation Wednesday night by presenting details of it in a private session just before the panel's public meeting -- failing to give them more time to evaluate it and the public the opportunity to comment on it before the board's scheduled vote that night.
The merits of Janey's plan "were lost" in the controversy over the way he presented it, said board member Victor A. Reinoso (District 2). The superintendent was traveling yesterday and could not be reached for comment.
The board has scheduled an emergency meeting for Wednesday to vote on Janey's proposal and an alternative plan submitted by board member Tommy Wells (District 3) that would maintain the 2000 capital plan's emphasis on new construction at all grade levels.
The proposal Janey made Wednesday calls for spending $640.8 million over five years for new roofs, electrical and heating systems, windows, restrooms and furnishings in at least 19 schools. The seven senior high schools that would be modernized are Anacostia, Cardozo, Coolidge, Roosevelt, School Without Walls, Wilson and Woodson.
The proposal also would authorize Janey to "aggressively explore" other funding options for the schools, such as public and private partnerships and alternative bonding mechanisms.
At Wedneday night's meeting, board member William Lockridge (District 4) said he felt Janey's proposal was being "shoved down our throats." He expressed support for Wells's proposal, maintaining the modernization plan of 2000.
People in the community, he said, "don't want patched schools. . . . They want brand-new buildings. We need further discussion on this."
Wells's proposal calls for the system to set building repairs as its first priority while pursuing the modernization plan of 2000 over the long-term.
He said the school system would finance the program through savings generated by closing and consolidating underused schools.
The system, he said, also would pursue money from public-private partnerships and federal and corporate grants.
Board member Jeff Smith (District 1) said the panel also should leave open the option of asking Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and the council for more capital improvement funds, in light of the city's projected surplus of $162.8 million.
"I'm in favor of asking for what the superintendent needs -- not what the mayor will give," Smith said.
Some other board members expressed hesitancy at that idea, given council members' repeated assertions that the school system squandered funds during the first round of building projects.