D.C. School Repairs
THE DISTRICT'S public schools open their doors today after an unprecedented summer of repairs. Improvements have been made in the condition of many buildings, and city officials should be applauded. It's difficult, though, to forget the incompetence and neglect that led to the disgraceful state of the schools -- or to overlook the hard reality that much more work still needs to be done.
About $80 million has been spent on repairing 71 of the system's 141 schools as well as on refurbishing some athletic fields. The vigor of the effort led by Allen Y. Lew, chief of the new school modernization office under the mayoral takeover, has been noteworthy. Construction crews have been working round-the-clock. That one principal was near tears in surveying the new look of his school is powerful testimony to the hurts inflicted by decrepit surroundings. It's wonderful that some children finally will be going to schools that have working water fountains and toilets but a disgrace that such basics were absent so long. A freshly painted room or new lighting won't automatically translate into higher test scores, but a shoddy -- even dangerous -- environment sends a message about the importance of school and affects learning.
Years of incompetence and neglect by the school system led to many of the problems. Even if facilities and maintenance had been a priority, the unwieldy bureaucracy was not up to the task. The speed and efficacy of the summer repairs could have happened only with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) marshaling all the power and resources of his office.
Because the problems are worse than originally thought, Mr. Lew is now saying that an additional $120 million is needed for emergency school repairs. It's unclear where that money would come from and whether it would be part of the $2.3 billion, 10-year school modernization program approved last year by the D.C. Council. Some school advocates worry that modernization money will be diverted for quick-fix repairs that over the long term would not be cost-effective. For instance, does it make sense to replace the roof of a school that really needs to be torn down? Mr. Lew is known for his common-sense approach to construction, but it's important that the council get a clear strategy for school repair. The results of the rush of repairs are worth celebrating, but even better would be not having a crisis that requires a rush of work.