Two District public charter schools will participate this fall in a D.C. Board of Education experiment allowing such schools to lease space in underused regular public school buildings.
But charter school advocates, who have been fighting for a year for the collocation plan to help relieve a space crunch, aren't celebrating.
With dozens of regular schools underenrolled, the advocates had hoped to have a large selection of sites. But only 10 buildings were offered, and just five of those facilities were ultimately approved for collocation.
Moreover, only two of the seven charter schools that sought the space -- Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School for Public Policy and the Latin American Montessori Bilingual Public Charter School -- succeeded in getting leases.
In the other cases, the school board opted to give the space to a city agency or community group instead of a charter school, even though collocation rules give charter schools preference over other applicants, said Malcolm Peabody, chairman of the board of Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, a charter school advocacy group.
"From a charter school policy perspective, this was not a success," said Ariana Quinones, executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Association, one of the leading proponents of the collocation idea. "It could have been much better."
Linda McKay, executive director of Mary McLeod Bethune Day Academy Public Charter School, whose applications for leases at two regular schools were rejected, said, "Charter schools are dissuaded from this process. It's disheartening."
The board approved a plan allowing Latin American Montessori Bilingual to lease space at Bunker Hill Elementary in Northeast Washington and Cesar Chavez to lease space at Tyler Elementary in Southeast. The plan also will allow the D.C. Housing Authority to share space at Fletcher-Johnson Education Center in Southeast; the D.C. police department to move offices into the old Miner school in Northeast; and the D.C. Alternative Learning Academy, a community organization, to be housed at Patricia R. Harris Education Center in Southeast.
School board Vice President Carolyn N. Graham dismissed the criticism, saying the board has taken a big step forward in approving the measure. "We have implemented a policy that in its first year probably isn't going to be pleasing and pretty to everyone," she said. Eventually, she said, "we will benefit from the great relationship with charter schools and establish a seamless education system" for all D.C. public school children.
Board member JoAnne Ginsberg said staff members thoroughly reviewed all the applications, rejecting the ones they deemed incompatible with the traditional public schools. The school system "did a fabulous job . . . in making sure not to collocate an entity that would not be good for the public school," she said.
Board member Tommy Wells said many more sites will be made available to charter schools after Superintendent Clifford B. Janey completes a master education plan in December.
Charter schools have experienced dramatic growth in enrollment, coinciding with a decline in the number of students attending regular public schools.
Collocation was conceptualized a year ago as a way to address two major problems: the charter schools' inability to find affordable space in light of the city's real estate boom and the regular public school system's inability to finance much of its necessary construction and repair work. Board members, some of whom were cool to the idea, were pressed into action by members of Congress and the D.C. Council.
Although pleased that the board relented, some council members expressed dismay that the plan didn't go further.
"The problem is that the two sides didn't have enough sitting-down time to work out what are the needs of the charter schools and what space is open to them," said council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4). "If we have the Board of Education continuing to make decisions without the charter schools, this will continue to happen."