More than 200 parents and teachers poured into McKinley High School on a rainy evening this week to plead for the futures of four elementary schools and a junior high slated for closing or use a secondary schools.
The emotional, five-hour meeting was the third of four public hearings scheduled by the District school board on the proposed closing of 23 schools where enrollment is declining.
Schools discussed this week were Bunker Hill, Langston, Slater and Woodridge elementary schools and Hamilton Junior High. Bunker Hill is being considered for use as a high school to relieve overcrowding at McKinley. Slater and Langston may be demolished to expand the playground at the nearby J.F. Cook Elementary School, and Woodridge could be replaced by a recently constructed school in the Fort Lincoln-New Town development. Hamilton may become a vocational school for the handicapped.
At the close of the meeting, no one seemed satisfied, least of all community residents who had argued that their under-enrolled schools were being used "efficiently and effectively" for community and education programs in addition to regular classes.
School board members pointed out that a declining student population forces cuts in the school budget. Parents said these were old problems that the school board should have been preparing for years ago, instead of building new schools.
Emma Carter, a former principal at Bunker Hill, said parents had helped offset some of that school's problems by funding and building a math lab and library-media center.
As Langston and Slater students carried a banner reading, "We Have Our School Together for Education. Don't Tear It Down for Fun," PTA President Clara Guyton asked why a $25,000 roof was recently put on Slater if the school was being considered for closing.
Parents from the Woodridge area said that last week they walked to the Fort Lincoln School, where their children will attend classes if Woodridge is closed. It was a tiring mile-and-a-half walk, mostly uphill, and across streets with heavy traffic, they said.
Thomas Heggan Jr., a facility planner with the school system, said in a telephone interview later that the Fort Lincoln School will have a right of way between the senior citizen housing developments in Fort Lincoln. If students crossed Bladensburg Road and cut between these buildings they would be in the "legitimate walking distance" of 3/4 of a mile for elementary school students. Otherwise the walk would be about a mile and a half, he said.
Another parent spoke of the increased bus and train fares for Hamilton students who would be transferred to Elliot, Brown, and Stuart junior high schools if Hamilton closed.
School board member Frank Shaffer-Corona charged that the proposed closings are tactics to drive low-income black and Hispanic residents to the suburbs so that higher-income whites can take over the inner-city. The empty schools would be demolished and replaced by expensive housing which would aid the process, he said.
Throughout the evening some parents and teachers supported Shaffer-Corona's statements as Conrad Smith, president of the school board, attempted to quiet him. "This bearing is not an opportunity for a board member to express his political views," Smith told Shaffer-Corona.
Later Smith told members of the audience who asked the board questions about their schools tht the hearing had been called to get community views, not to answer questions.
Shaffer-Corona reminded Smith of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, and Smith replied, "I don't believe you know what the First Amendment is."
In telephone conversations later, city officials answered a charge made at the meeting by Shaffer-Corona that the Fort Lincoln school was structurally unsound.
Edward Winner, deputy school superintendent, said the school is structurally sound but has leaks that need repair. "Our plan is that any time that building becomes available we're going to move into it. It's not an either or matter," said Winner.
Sam Starobin, director of the city's General Services Department, explained that air was not flowing smoothly and uniformly through the hearing and air conditioning systems in the school. The problem will be repaired without additional cost, he said. But another problem, requiring the replacement of thermostats that regulate room temperatures, will cost an additional $10-$20,000. The Fort Lincoln building should open by September, he said.
Until the proposed school closing issues are settled. Starobin said, his department is holding off making further repairs on buildings.
"We're doing (this) on our own," he said.
If repairs are being made, he said speaking of the Slaner roof, it is because the funds are just now becoming available for maintenance requests made years ago. For example, Syphax Elementary School, another school proposed for closing recently received funds for a new boiler, he said.
Most of the schools proposed for closing will be returned to the General Services Department Starobin added that three schools which were returned to his agency - Gage, Shaw and Carberry Elementary Schools - have been transferred to the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) for their use.
A DHCD spokeman said the buildings will be used for low and moderate income housing. DHCD is also considering other surplus schools and cry properties for housing and other uses.
One such property that may become surplus is the Migrauder School which houses the School Without Walls at 17th and M. street NW. According to General Services, the estimated fair market value of the property was $2,895 million in 1976, if Magrauder is closed the School Without Walls will be moved to anotther location, according to the school administration.