Principal Joyce Grimes bubbled with grateful enthusiasm as she marched through the halls of Ketcham Elementary School in Southeast Washington yesterday, pointing out new lights, gleaming floors, and walls freshly painted in ivory and yellow.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and a horde of news photographers trailed behind her, witnesses to the $157,500 makeover.
"It all looks like this: beautiful," Grimes gushed. "Makes you want to come here and learn."
When school opens Monday morning in Washington, students at more than 100 public schools will be greeted by similarly spruced-up classrooms, thanks in large part to an extra $6 million that the mayor and D.C. Council budgeted for long-neglected maintenance projects. Across the city, walls have been plastered, lights have been replaced, restrooms have been deep cleaned and leaks have been fixed -- in some cases for the first time in years.
"We have over 700 projects implemented over the summer, touching over 100 school facilities," Cornell S. Brown Jr., director of facilities management for D.C. schools, said during a news conference at Ketcham. Not every project will be finished by Monday, he said, but everything is on track to be completed by Oct. 1.
And, yes, he said to applause, "every school will open on time next week."
In a system long plagued by aging facilities and bureaucratic bungles on opening day, this summer's performance has been encouraging, said some parents and organizations that monitor the schools.
The superintendent, Clifford B. Janey, and his team seem to be producing "more action, getting things done with greater alacrity," said Nancy Huvendick, D.C. programs director at the 21st Century School Fund. And the mayor's decision to provide extra money for the schools from the city's budget surplus this year was "crucial," said Huvendick, who has a child at Woodrow Wilson Senior High.
Darlene Allen, president of the D.C. PTA, said it would have been "exhilarating" if all the work had been completed by Monday morning. "But it is on schedule, and that's a positive thing," Allen said. "There have been extraordinary efforts to make sure some problems that have plagued us in the past have been taken care of."
Brown said the extra $6 million more than doubled his annual maintenance budget and dwarfed the approximately $800,000 the school system had to get classrooms ready last summer.
Still, many of the city's 147 public schools need major renovations. Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), who has introduced a bill aimed at raising $1 billion to modernize school facilities, called the $6 million "a drop in the bucket."
"I think even the mayor will admit that the schools have been so neglected that we're really talking about peanuts in terms of making them look like we want to educate children," said Fenty, a candidate for mayor who has held news conferences recently to call attention to conditions at some public schools.
Yesterday, Williams scoffed at Fenty's comments.
"Council members pointing out things that need to be improved? That's helpful," he said sarcastically. "It's easy to get stories about what's left to be done. This is a story about what good has happened. And I think it's worthy to note."
Williams added: "I can go around and show you some hole in the roof somewhere or some bathroom that still needs to be done. You know: Details at 11."