D.C. to Lease Public Buildings to Charter Schools

By Theola Labbé
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 17, 2007

Six charter schools will be allowed to move into four District public school buildings for short-term leases under a resolution approved last night by the D.C. Board of Education.

The board voted unanimously to make space available at Fletcher-Johnson Educational Center, which is empty, and Hendley and Plummer elementary schools, all in Southeast. Slowe Elementary School in Northeast would also temporarily host charter school students.

Fletcher-Johnson would host the School for Arts in Learning (SAIL), an arts-centered school that serves special education students, Hope Academy, a charter school scheduled to open this fall, and Septima Clark, an all-boys school in Ward 7.

Potomac Lighthouse is to move into Hendley. Community Academy would move into Plummer, and Eagle Academy would relocate to Slowe. All the leases would be for one year.

The board delayed action on three other schools: McGogney Elementary in Southeast, which is empty, Raymond Elementary in Northwest, and Ronald H. Brown Middle School in Northeast. Board member William Lockridge (District 4) said he plans to hold meetings next week to get feedback from residents on the issue of sharing space with a charter school. "We need to do this right," Lockridge said at the meeting. "I want to hear from the community who are affected by this decision."

The Maya Angelou Public Charter School wants to operate its new middle school at McGogney for a year. E.L. Haynes Public Charter School wants to put its pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade at Raymond for several months while its Columbia Heights building is built. And the Village Academy wants to lease Ronald Brown for one year. The board said it would decide on those schools next week.

The board's vote last night to allow some charter schools to "co-locate" with a traditional public school marks the school system's latest effort to comply with directives to use space efficiently in the face of declining enrollment.

Charter schools, which receive public funds, have been hard-pressed to find suitable buildings in a tight market, paying as much as $50,000 a month to lease commercial space.

Building Hope, a foundation that assists charter schools with real estate purchases and financing, told D.C. School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey in a letter last month that more than 23 charter schools were looking for temporary space in D.C. public school buildings while they completed construction or searched for a permanent facility. The foundation asked Janey for space in buildings that were being underused or were slated to close under the school system's Master Facilities Plan, a 15-year blueprint for the construction and renovations of its schools.

Last night's decision came too late for SAIL, whose board of directors voted two weeks ago to close its upper school, affecting students in grades 8 to 11. SAIL, which also serves students in kindergarten through seventh grade, had to move out of its location on H Street NW, where the older students were.

Because SAIL could not settle on financing for its new facility on Ninth Street NW and the Fletcher-Johnson option was still pending, its board of directors decided two weeks ago to sell the Ninth Street property and close the upper school.

SAIL founder and President L. Lawrence Riccio said he had spent hours sending registered letters to parents about the decision. "It's sad for the system to wait this long to make a decision that affects so many families," Riccio said.

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