After nearly two hours of debate, the D.C. school board voted last night to close two elementary schools that have a combined enrollment of fewer than 250 students.
The schools are the Bundy school for the handicapped at Fourth and O streets NW, which enrolls 37 students, and Nichols Avenue Elementary School at 2427 Martin Luther King Ave. SE, which accommodates a federally funded program for 200 students. Board members said Bundy is in an extreme state of disrepair, and that Nichols Avenue--another older school building--is a gathering place for neighborhood drug addicts in the evening.
The action marked the third time in two months that the board had considered closing some city schools after Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie proposed that 14 buildings with less than 40 percent occupancy be shut down to cut costs. Last month, the board rejected McKenzie's original proposal. But last night, a majority of the board voted to reconsider McKenzie's list.
The vote last night leaves the 94,000-student school system with nearly 40,000 empty classroom seats. School enrollment has been dropping by about 5,000 students a year during the past three years.
Board member Eugene Kinlow (At-Large), who argued for some closings, said that the city currently is operating three schools for every acre in the city, and two elementary schools for each square mile. "It is possible to keep the neighborhood school concept . . . and still close some schools," Kinlow said.
Board members started last night's proceedings with a proposal to close eight schools, but then various ward representatives began urging exemption from the list of schools that were in their wards. Board members considered eliminating five schools at one point, then whittled the list down to the two that had stirred the least community protest.
Board member R. David Hall, who represents Ward Two, where Bundy is located, and R. Calvin Lockridge, who represents Ward Eight, where Nichols Avenue school is located, said that they would support a move to close these schools.
In closing Bundy and Nichols Avenue, the board rejected suggestions by some members that the superintendent and her staff draw up a new list of schools they thought should be shut down since there was so little support for closing the 14 that the superintendent had originally proposed.
Lockridge, who accused the board of "just playing politics," at one point proposed that the board consider closing all schools with less than "50 or 40 percent occupancy." But McKenzie told the board that if members could not select some schools from her original list of 14, then it should consider changing the criteria for selection of units to be closed. The criteria include the enrollment of the school in relation to its capacity, its age, state of repair, its proximity to other schools and the amount of use it gets in the community.
The vote last night was preliminary, and a public hearing bearing on both schools targeted for closing must be held before the board can make a final decision.
The board did not take a roll call vote on the two schools that it decided to close. However, board members Lockridge, John E. Warren (Ward 6), Bettie G. Benjamin (Ward 5) and Barbara Lett Simmons (At-Large) voted against reconsidering the issue of school closings this year. And Frank Smith (Ward 1), once one of the most outspoken proponents of school closings, abstained in that vote.