Janey Proposes 6 Schools To Close

Twins Austin, left, and Justin Bunn, 11, wait with their sister, Angela Davis, 4, outside Merritt Educational Center for their father, Daniel Davis, 47, who says he hopes the children won't have to get used to a new school.
Twins Austin, left, and Justin Bunn, 11, wait with their sister, Angela Davis, 4, outside Merritt Educational Center for their father, Daniel Davis, 47, who says he hopes the children won't have to get used to a new school. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 16, 2006

D.C. School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey yesterday recommended closing six of the city's public schools by August, the first phase of an effort to shrink a vast inventory of underused buildings and redirect millions of dollars into academic programs to reverse dismal student achievement.

Proposing the first school closings in the District in almost a decade, Janey said he selected the facilities based on their severe underenrollment, low academic achievement and poor physical condition, as well as the location of better schools within walking distance. The school board will hold public hearings on the plan and take final action June 28.

Several board members and parent activists praised Janey's recommendations, saying that the list of closures made sense and that downsizing is long overdue in a 58,000-student school system that has lost 10,000 students in the past five years and badly needs to cut administrative overhead. Almost half of the system's 147 schools are underenrolled.

"We can no longer maintain large buildings," said school board Vice President Carolyn N. Graham. "Every student has the right to a high-quality education. This proposal will create the additional resources to make that happen."

But some residents and public officials complained that Janey spared schools in affluent neighborhoods. All of the schools to be shuttered are east of Rock Creek Park, and four of the six are in Southeast Washington, the economically poorest quadrant of the city.

"We represent 41 percent of the students, but we're facing closings more than any other area," said board member William Lockridge (District 4), who represents Wards 7 and 8. "The citizens in District 4 feel they are being slighted, and we're going to have something to say."

Many urban school systems throughout the country are engaged in the same painful process, forced by declining enrollment to shed excess space.

After years of avoiding the politically sensitive issue, the District school board -- partly in response to pressure from Congress and the D.C. Council -- decided in March to eliminate 1 million square feet of space by August and another 2 million square feet by fall 2008.

The six schools Janey wants to close have a total of 1,402 students and occupy about 730,000 square feet. To reach the board's target of 1 million square feet, Janey proposed that nine other school system facilities lease space to public charter schools or city agencies. He said the plan would generate savings of at least $8.2 million a year.

Recommended for closure are Fletcher-Johnson Educational Center in Southeast, Merritt Educational Center in Northeast, Shadd Elementary in Southeast, M.C. Terrell Elementary in Southeast, Van Ness Elementary in Southeast and Walker-Jones Elementary in Northwest.

At Merritt, in the Deanwood section of Northeast, there were whispers throughout the day as staff wondered whether their school would be on the list. By the 3:15 p.m. dismissal time, the final word had come down, but many of the parents picking up their children were not aware of the news until a reporter told them.

Daniel Davis, 47, said he hoped his three children wouldn't have to get used to a new school.


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