Final Board Vote on Closings Set for June
Thursday, April 6, 2006
D.C. school officials released a schedule yesterday that shows that the school board will make a final decision June 28 on which schools to close or consolidate this fall, leaving two months to transfer students and teachers and get buildings ready for the mergers before classes begin Aug. 28.
In a meeting with Washington Post editors and reporters, Superintendent Clifford B. Janey and board members discussed their plans to eliminate 1 million square feet of excess space by this fall and an additional 2 million by fall 2008.
They said they think the public generally recognizes the educational and financial benefits of merging schools, in contrast to the widespread opposition that greeted previous school-closing efforts in which residents did not have as much input.
"We've been talking about this for five years," said board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz. "People understand that this has to be done."
School officials had said recently that they would announce by late April the 10 or so schools recommended for closure or consolidation this fall and by late May the estimated 20 schools to be closed or merged in 2008.
But the schedule released yesterday pushes back those announcements. The first list of schools will be issued by Janey on May 15 as part of a "master facilities plan." And although the plan will suggest possible reductions in space that could occur in 2008, no decisions will be made this spring on those ideas, officials said.
Janey said he wanted to make sure that the public is given ample time to contribute to the process. The board has scheduled public hearings for April 18 and 22 on Janey's proposed criteria for deciding which schools to close. Parents, teachers and school activists "want to make sure the work we do will be to a standard of quality they can live with," he said.
More community meetings would take place late next month and early in June for comment on the closings list.
Mary Filardo, executive director of the 21st Century School Fund, an organization that studies school facilities issues, was a leading critic of the school system's initial timetable. In an interview yesterday, Filardo said she was pleased that Janey decided not to announce the closings list before completing the master facilities plan.
Nevertheless, she said, with the June 28 vote, school officials are not giving themselves enough time to prepare the affected schools for the beginning of the academic year. She said the school board should put off closing or merging any schools until 2007.
"There's not enough time to do it this year, unless it's a small program," she said. "That would be the right thing."
But board members said they want to proceed with the first round of space reductions quickly so that they can use the savings to help schools facing budget cuts.
Board member Tommy Wells (District 3) said that the school system, in closing or consolidating facilities, could save money by no longer having to pay for salaries, utilities, maintenance and other costs associated with the buildings. Moreover, he said, the system would raise money by leasing the space to tenants such as charter schools and leasing land to developers.
Janey said officials have not decided whether consolidated schools would operate as two entities in one building or be combined to become a new school. He said schools designated as failing under the federal No Child Left Behind law would get a two-year exemption from certain provisions of the law if they form one school.