Several D.C. school board members yesterday criticized Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie's plan for closing 12 city schools, complaining that it did not consider community views and did not propose eliminating any schools west of Rock Creek Park.
The sharpest criticism of the plan came from board members Barbara Lett Simmons (At-large) and John E. Warren (Ward 6). Warren said the selection of the 12 schools for closing "was done in a haphazard . . . fashion" that did not reflect community opinions.
Both Warren and Simmons criticized the fact that no schools in Ward 3, the affluent and predominantly white section of the city west of Rock Creek Park, appeared on the superintendent's list of schools slated for closing.
"What's going on is very simple. The rights of people are being evaluated based on whether they fill out a long or short income tax form on April 15," Simmons said, referring to Ward 3's affluence.
McKenzie has declined to comment publicly on her school closing proposals.
McKenzie's report says her staff used several criteria in selecting the 12 schools, including the current enrollment at a school in relation to its capacity, age of the school building, repairs and improvements needed, whether it houses any commmunity programs, and whether it is near another school to which the students could transfer.
Warren complained that the superintendent's report neglected the fact that the two schools in his ward scheduled for closing, Payne Elementary at 15th and C streets SE and Lovejoy Elementary at 12th and D streets NE, actually have more students enrolled in them than several schools in Ward 3 that would remain open under McKenzie's plan.
The superintendent's report, however, looks at a different set of numbers--how many students are enrolled in relation to the number of available seats in each school. Her report says that while Ward 3 schools are among the smallest in the city and their enrollments are lower than those at other schools, they also have fewer vacant seats.
Two schools in Ward 3 have less than a 60 percent enrollment rate--Janney Elementary at Wisconsin Avenue and Albemarle streets NW, and Lafayette Elementary at Northampton Street and Broad Branch Road NW.
The schools slated for closing are Hamilton Junior High School; Barnard, Carver, Cleveland, Langston, Lovejoy, Nichols Avenue, Payne, Slater, Syphax and Woodridge elementary schools, and the Bundy special school for handicapped students.
Frank Smith (Ward 1), chairman of the school board's building and grounds committee, said he expects the panel to approve McKenzie's plan when it votes on the issue Thursday. He said he expects the committee vote to be 2 to 1, with himself and Linda W. Cropp (Ward 4) voting in favor and Warren voting against.
Cropp said yesterday she had not yet made up her mind, but that she would probably vote to recommend some of the schools on the list for closing.
Concerning the Ward 3 schools with low enrollment rates, Smith said the superintendent's staff told him Janney should be kept open since there is no other school in that neighborhood for its students to attend. Lafayette also will stay open because it is not near another elementary school and has a large new wing that opened four years ago, Smith said.
Smith said there are 39,842 empty classroom seats throughout the school system. There are 94,975 students attending D.C. schools.
At-large board member Eugene Kinlow said he thought the superintendent's list should have given board members more schools to choose from and should have included at least one Ward 3 school.
Ward 3 board member Wanda Washburn said she thought the superintendent's report should have offered some analysis of how well the education programs are doing at the schools proposed for closing.
Simmons accused McKenzie of "violating a professional trust" by not giving the board the educational impact study it had requested for all the schools proposed for closing.
Simmons said she objected to the superintendent's proposal of giving seven of the schools scheduled for closing back to the city government, saying the school system would not be able to retrieve the buildings in the future if enrollment were to suddenly increase.