D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) spoke to staff writers and editors Thursday. In addition to saying that she is "leaning strongly" toward running for mayor, Cropp spoke at length about challenges facing District schools.

QWhat makes it so difficult for us to deal with the academic part of the school system, so the kids who are leaving the school system are well prepared academically?

AThe change has been too frequent and too great. We have had so many superintendents with the financial authority that it was a disservice to our school system. . . . It brought about so much upheaval and change. It is my deepest hope that this superintendent that we have now will bring about stability in our schools that they need so much. . . .

I probably ought not say this, and I say it with caution, [that] while I support the charter schools, if we don't watch the tremendous growth in the charter schools, it could be the death knell for traditional education. We have growth of charter schools in the District, larger than anywhere else in the country, and that is good in that we are providing opportunities for our students to have options. But what is happening to the traditional schools when the charter schools are growing so large? We need to look more at the co-locations of charter schools with our traditional schools, because it helps to bring about a different type culture that our traditional schools also need to see.

Is closing schools something we need to look at as well?

Yes, we need to close schools. We have too many schools that are not at capacity. They are extremely costly to repair. They are old. The average age is 75 years or older. The roofs leak constantly, and the average cost to repair a really small roof is $100,000.

It makes no sense for us to have three buildings open -- trying to keep the roofs, the windows and electricity and everything of all three buildings going -- and each building is only at 50 percent of capacity. If we move the children from three buildings to one, with the money we're spending on the other two we could really fix up a school. It makes economic sense. The problem is as soon as you say you are going to close down a school, it becomes the best school in the country. Everybody comes out of the woodwork. . . .

We have options there if they do not want some of the schools closed. And that is one of the reasons why I introduced legislation this year to try to give incentives on co-location. We have libraries that need to be fixed up. I just talked about recreation, and I think there is a nexus between schools and recreation needs for our children. We can co-locate some of those facilities [including recreation centers, in underused school buildings].

Did you know the city is spending money . . . to rent private space for kids to go to charter schools? . . . It may be okay if the private facilities were in adequate space. But [often] it's not adequate, it's not appropriate, so we're spending good money -- a whole lot of it -- on space that is inadequate for charter schools when we have a traditional school right here that is half-full.

Move them all together, and the money that the charter school has, let them spend some of those dollars they are spending to fix up private space, to fix up a roof in another school. . . . Even with that, we still may have to close some of the schools. And we can't close schools evenly. . . .

What do you mean, we can't close schools evenly?

There have been times that people have said if we need to close schools, we're going to close two in each ward. But the children weren't born two in each ward. They didn't leave the city two in each ward. So we need to look at where the needs are.

Linda Cropp