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Clouds Gather Over D.C. Schools

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By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 31, 2007

One month before school starts, District officials said yesterday that half of D.C. public schools do not have all their required textbooks and half of the school buildings will not have any air conditioning on the first day of school -- conditions as traditional in the city as back-to-school shopping for a new box of crayons.

Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said an investigation found that some schools received incorrect book shipments and others have not received any books.

At a news conference yesterday, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) promised that this would be the last year of such textbook debacles and said the city is updating school heating and air-conditioning systems.

During the meeting with reporters, beads of sweat formed on Fenty's head and dripped onto his suit jacket as he stood in a Head Start classroom at Davis Elementary School in Southeast Washington. The room, where a wad of bright pink bubble gum decorated a ceiling covered by peeling paint, was one of five classrooms with air conditioning out of 40 in the 64-year-old building, Principal Joyce Thompson said.

The air conditioner was unable to keep the room cool as it filled with reporters and school officials, including Rhee and Allen Y. Lew, executive director of facilities modernization.

Fenty, Rhee and Lew gave an overview of academic programs and construction scheduled in the coming months and of the obstacles that they have discovered since the mayor took control of public schools in June.

"The chancellor and I are completely disgusted by what we find," Fenty said during the news conference about the state of city schools.

As part of the update on school readiness, Rhee said 290 teacher slots have been filled out of 475 vacancies. Rhee also said she has frozen the hiring of nonessential employees as a cost-saving measure. "No hires will be made at central office without my explicit approval," she said.

The missing textbooks are attributable to a broken ordering system, Rhee said. For example, French textbooks were sent to M.M. Washington Career High School, which does not offer French.

Under school system policy, principals are responsible for ordering textbooks for their schools. Rhee cited poor inventory control at schools and the central office.

Then-Superintendent Clifford B. Janey announced that new science and social studies books arrived May 1, but Rhee said there are still mix-ups with books in other subjects. Rhee said a school opening task force will send verification teams to schools to help resolve textbook problems.

"Part of the lack of books can be solved by switching books from one school to another," Rhee said.

The air-conditioning problem is not as easy to resolve, Lew said. "We have the air conditioners, but we don't have the power," he said.

Many D.C. schools are housed in older buildings that are not supplied with the power needed to support air-conditioning units in every room and the widespread use of computers,Lew said. Lew said he plans to meet today with Pepco officials to work on the problem.

Meanwhile, Lew said his office is repairing heating systems to ensure they will be up and running by Oct. 15.

On the academic front, Rhee announced that a partnership of the school system and the Washington Teachers' Union will provide $1.06 million in grants to 13 schools to start pilot programs. The programs will include dual-language instruction, extended school days and instruction of students with special needs in traditional classrooms.

Rhee also said a proposed change in the sex education curriculum would have eighth-graders taught that some people have romantic feelings for individuals of the same sex. The period for public comment on the proposed change ended yesterday, and Rhee said she had not received a significant amount of feedback.

Staff writer Theola Labbé contributed to this report.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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