Leasing Plan Adopted For Charter Schools

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The D.C. Board of Education yesterday for the first time approved a comprehensive plan to lease space to charter schools, and D.C. Council members proposed to double the school system's construction budget if it takes additional steps to shed excess space.

By a vote of 7 to 1, the board voted to allow charter schools to begin negotiating leases at 10 underused buildings, with the space becoming available in the fall.

Charter school advocates hailed the move, saying it would provide long-overdue relief for the independently run schools, many of which are in tight quarters because of surging enrollment.

"I'm delighted the board took the action it did. This is a great first step," said Robert Cane, executive director of Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, a charter school advocacy group.

The 10 schools on the list are Bunker Hill Elementary, Draper Elementary, Ferebee-Hope Elementary, Emery Elementary, Fletcher-Johnson Education Center, the vacant former Miner school, P.R. Harris Elementary, Tyler Elementary, Ron Brown Middle and Hart Middle.

A few hours before the board's vote, D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) introduced legislation that would provide the school system with an extra $100 million to repair and modernize buildings -- doubling the amount it was to receive next year -- if school officials make additional progress on using space more efficiently.

The school system has been steadily losing enrollment for years and, according to one recent independent study, needs only 10 million of the 16 million square feet it has at its 145 schools.

Cropp's measure, which anticipates an increase in tax revenue for the next fiscal year, would direct the city's chief financial officer to allocate $10 million in new revenue toward debt service on general obligation bonds for new schools and libraries. That amount would finance $100 million in capital improvements, she said.

But the proposal would require that school officials, in spending the money, give priority to "co-location" projects -- improvements at schools willing to share space with charter schools, public libraries or recreation centers. Another priority would be projects that make regular school buildings more accessible to special education students.

Cropp's bill received wide support from other council members at yesterday's Committee of the Whole meeting. Vincent Morris, a spokesman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), said the mayor has not looked at the proposal closely enough to take a position.

Meanwhile, council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), who chairs the education and library committee, proposed giving the school system an additional $10.7 million in operating funds to avert the layoffs of 306 teachers and other school-based staff. School officials have said such staff cuts might be necessary to pay for salary step increases in teacher union contracts. The $10.7 million would be transferred from the budgets of the Department of Corrections and the Office of Administrative Hearings.

Her proposal was rejected in an initial vote. But several council members who voted against it said they might change their minds in a vote May 10 after determining how the departments losing funds would be affected.

Patterson also released a breakdown, by ward, of the possible 306 layoffs. It showed that Ward 8 schools would experience the heaviest cuts, losing 78 positions, and that schools throughout the city would be forced to eliminate elementary, special education, math, reading, music and social studies teachers.

"This list is just amazing," said council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large). "We talk about why our students can't read, and we're cutting English teachers. We talk about why our students can't add, and we're cutting math teachers."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company