Chancellor Says Majority of Students Will Have Books

"We cannot face these textbook issues again," D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said. (Dayna Smith - Dayna Smith/ftwp)
By Sylvia Moreno
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 9, 2007

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said yesterday that most of the District's public schools will start the academic year this month stocked with required textbooks, although more than half of the schools lack the requisite number.

It was less than a week ago that Rhee and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) led reporters through the school system's book warehouse and said half the schools might open without books. She struck a different tone yesterday.

"We feel very, very confident we will be able to meet the needs of the vast majority of our students when school starts," Rhee said at a groundbreaking ceremony for the $58.5 million renovation of Alice Deal Junior High School in Northwest D.C.

Mafara Hobson, a spokeswoman for Rhee, said the chancellor's goal was to have at least 95 percent of the city's 146 schools stocked on opening day with the required number of math, language arts, science and social studies textbooks.

Once the inventory problem is addressed, Rhee said, she will push to start the planning by January each year and do away with centralized ordering for all schools.

"Principals should order books directly and get them shipped there directly," the chancellor said. "We cannot face these textbook issues again."

Last week, Rhee announced that a preliminary survey had found that half of the schools would open Aug. 27 without the required number of textbooks and that half of the school buildings would not have air conditioning.

Part of the problem lies with the school district's textbook department, whose sole employee keeps track of book orders but has no power to enforce whether individual schools meet deadlines for ordering replacement books. As of last week, piles of textbooks sat on pallets in the warehouse. Some schools received the wrong books and, in other cases, orders had not been placed with textbook publishers.

Getting warehouse deliveries made and untangling misguided shipments would be a priority in the few weeks before school starts, Rhee said. Last-minute book orders are being placed with textbook publishers. Rhee said the book "validation teams" would revisit the schools before opening day and during the first week of class to determine how many students lack the required textbooks.

Yesterday, Rhee visited Deal Junior High, which has more than 500 students, because it's one of seven schools placed on the fast track for renovations since Fenty took over the public school system. Deal, built in 1931, will get new electrical wiring, central air conditioning and heating and a new gymnasium, cafeteria and mechanical plant.

The project was proposed five years ago but was never funded. The D.C. Council appropriated the funds in the spring and the construction contract was approved in June. Renovation will continue throughout the school year.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company