By Theola Labbe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
A nonprofit group with political connections that faced eviction from its city-owned location will no longer have to move, under emergency legislation passed yesterday by the D.C. Council.
Associates for Renewal in Education Inc., whose executive director was council Chairman Vincent C. Gray's campaign treasurer, would have been forced out of a building in the unit block of P Street NW -- where it has been for more than 20 years -- because by law the building is reserved for use by a charter school.
The organization operates in the former Langston and Slater schools, adjoining buildings included in the list of 50 schools under District control that the council declared surplus property. That inventory of schools is separate from empty buildings controlled by the school system.
Charter schools are required to be given first priority for surplus school buildings. The city's Office of Property Management had planned to solicit competitive proposals for Langston/Slater and two other schools and had arranged site visits this week.
Sponsored by Gray, the legislation passed 10 to 0 and gives Associates for Renewal in Education and Community Academy, an elementary charter school, the right of first refusal to lease the buildings where they are. The legislation goes into effect immediately for 90 days and halts the competitive process for those two buildings. Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) abstained.
Known as ARE, the nonprofit group runs child-care and after-school youth programs and is a month-to-month tenant at Langston/Slater. It opened a charter school at the same location in 1999 but voluntarily closed it in 2003.
Gray described Thomas W. Gore, president and executive director of ARE, as a friend, but said Gore did not ask for Gray's help directly. Gray denied the legislation was a political favor.
"This is the right thing to do," Gray said yesterday, noting the organization's decades of social services work.
Gore said his friendship with Gray goes back 15 years. "Sometimes when issues like this come up, people want to make more of it than what it is," Gore said. "This is just a case where the council did the right thing for children, youth and families."
The Keene school in Northeast was also going to be available for lease. Since 2004, Community Academy has been operating at Keene, but its lease expired. The school reached out to Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), who co-sponsored the legislation.
"There would have been a lot of disruption to the education of students" if the school had to move, said T. Wendell Butler, the schools' director of real estate.