D.C. Superintendent to Propose Closing 19 More Schools

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 14, 2006

D.C. School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey will propose today shuttering an additional 19 underenrolled schools on a staggered basis stretching until 2019. The recommendation is already facing criticism from some Board of Education and D.C. Council members who were expecting all of those buildings to be closed by 2008.

Launching phase two of a move to pare down the D.C. school system, Janey wants to close seven schools next summer and four a year later. The remaining eight would be closed over 12 years, beyond the graduation date for today's first-graders. The staggered schedule could mean that the system would have less money to invest in educational programs than school leaders had initially planned.

School system officials said they will need to keep more underenrolled schools open longer to accommodate students from more than 100 other schools who need to be relocated while their buildings are renovated.

The list of 19 schools and the timetable for the closures are in Janey's master education plan, which is to be released today. It is a 1,000-page document outlining how the system would spend about $2.3 billion in city funds to reconstruct 121 schools and downsize the system to account for shrinking enrollment.

Over the summer, the school board, prompted by the loss of 10,000 students in the past five years, closed five schools and made parts or all of eight others available for leasing to charter schools.

For years, members of Congress and the council had grumbled about the millions of dollars wasted in maintaining dozens of schools that were only half full. They persistently pressured the school system to close them and invest in academics.

But the school board didn't take action until the spring, when some council members made closing schools an informal condition of obtaining the modernization funding they were considering.

At issue is a resolution the school board approved March 15 addressing the timetable for the closings. The document directs Janey to submit a master facilities plan "that identifies the amount of excess space and recommends the consolidation and elimination, minimally, of 1 million square feet by July 1, 2007, and a total of 3 million square feet of excess space by July 1, 2008." The school board had opted to move the July 2007 deadline to last month.

Janey and other officials said yesterday that their understanding of the board's vote is that by summer 2008, they have to identify the 2 million square feet in excess space, or 20 schools, that still need to be eliminated. The 13 schools that were closed or consolidated last month accounted for the first 1 million square feet.

"We were given a task to 'identify' 3 million square feet" to eliminate, Thomas M. Brady, the system's chief business operations officer, said yesterday.

"To make the modernization happen in a 15-year period, clearly we need swing space" where students can be relocated, Brady said. "I don't think that's a breach of faith, a breach of what the school board intended at all."

But one school board member, who did not want to openly oppose Janey and spoke only on the condition of anonymity, disputed that argument.

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