Leaders at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School are dropping their proposal to become a charter school in exchange for an agreement from Superintendent Clifford B. Janey to enter into talks aimed at giving the Northwest Washington school more autonomy, Wilson parents and teachers said yesterday.
The committee of parents and staff that makes key decisions about the school's operations had been considering switching to charter school status for the past year. Members said they were deeply dissatisfied with the central administration, which had been slow to fix Wilson's computer and maintenance problems and had ordered them last year to cut $400,000 from the school's budget because of a systemwide shortfall.
Losing Wilson, the city's highest-performing comprehensive public high school, would have been a major blow to the school system, and Janey had worked hard to keep that from happening.
Teachers and parents said Janey will announce an agreement tonight to start negotiations with Wilson representatives on giving them more power over hiring and spending decisions than most other schools in the system have.
Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Northwest, which threatened to become a charter school more than five years ago, is the only school that has authority to hire teachers on its own and to control large portions of its budget.
"I'm delighted that Wilson and the D.C. public schools have reached a stage where they have a memorandum of understanding now and will work together," said school board member JoAnne Ginsberg, who was involved in trying to help Wilson last year when she was a member of D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson's staff.
"I'm so happy Superintendent Janey is willing to work with the Wilson community so we can keep schools like this within the school system and they don't have to leave to get what they want," she said.
A D.C. schools spokeswoman declined to provide details on the agreement. According to Wilson officials, Janey agreed to consider giving the school more say in such areas as curriculum, recruiting, hiring and contracting to repair facilities.
Some education activists said the move to give Wilson more autonomy could spark complaints of unequal treatment from schools in other parts of the city.
"I wouldn't want the race card being played between schools east of the [Anacostia] river and west of" Rock Creek Park, said Darlene Allen, president of the D.C. PTA.
Tensions could erupt "if the superintendent establishes no criteria spelling out how schools could get this," she said.
The city's base allocation is $8,550 per high school student. But Wilson gets $5,444, according to Nicole K. Conley, the school system's director of resource allocation and management. The rest of the money stays at the central office for such administrative services as security, human resources, procurement and maintenance, she said.
If the Wilson committee, known as the local restructuring team, had recommended that the school become an independently run charter school, the proposal would have required approval from two-thirds of parents and two-thirds of faculty.
One D.C. school, Paul Junior High School in Northwest, has made such a switch.
The school system's agreement with Duke Ellington allows the school to make many spending decisions without going through central headquarters.
Brian Nielsen, comptroller for the nonprofit organization that manages Duke Ellington's funds, gave the example of a teacher who wants to attend a professional development conference. At another school, a teacher would have to wait four to six weeks for approval, he said. "Here, if a teacher finds out at the last minute about a training session, we can get it approved and disbursed right away."