District schools suffer from overcrowded classrooms, a lack of textbooks, lab equipment and library books and "miserable" physical conditions, according to a survey released yesterday of 98 of the city's 200 schools and adult education centers.
The survey was organized by Parents United for the D.C. Public Schools, a parent lobbying group, in its efforts to influence tomorrow night's school budget hearings before the D.C. City Council.
"The buildings are in terrible, terrible repair," said Delabian Rice-Thurston, Parents United director. The report found that about four out of every five buildings have roofs that have leaked for at least four years.
"We have students from run-down neighborhoods attending run-down schools," Rice-Thurston said. "It certainly affects education -- what a place looks like to a student tells them what their value is."
Neither school officials nor Department of Public Works officials could be reached for comment yesterday. The city's Public Works Department hires contractors for major school projects.
Shoddy work and mismanagement of school maintenance projects prompted Mayor Marion Barry last week to appoint a task force on school repairs. Earlier this month, the D.C. Board of Education formally protested the Public Works Department's handling of school repair and construction projects.
Parents United said the mayor's $380 million request for the schools is $16 million less than is needed to end textbook sharing and major structural problems such as leaky roofs, warped windows and inadequate playground equipment.
The survey, which was sent to principals and student leaders with the cooperation of the superintendent's office, found that 78 of the 98 schools responding had roof leaks, falling plaster and floors in need of repair. An additional 66 schools had outside doors that opened and closed improperly, including some with malfunctioning panic bars.
In 36 schools, students had to share textbooks and in 42 schools, there was a significant shortage of instruction materials. About 50 elementary schools do not have adequate equipment in good repair.
During a tour of Coolidge High School yesterday, "we were stunned to see such huge holes in the plaster of the roof that the home ec section could be awash in a rainstorm," Rice-Thurston said.
The home economics teacher has tried without success for eight years to get the ceiling repaired. She used to keep a 30-gallon plastic drum under the hole, Rice-Thurston said, but during the Thanksgiving vacation heavy rains caused the drum to overflow. The ceiling was recently patched.
Mary Levy, an attorney and volunteer for Parents United, said that because District school officials invested heavily in computers, this is one area where District schools have parity with the suburbs.
The parent group had planned to hold a rally on the steps of the District Building before the budget hearing, but was denied permission by the mayor's office. "We were told this would set a precedent and the steps had to stay clear for use as an emergency exit," Rice-Thurston said.