D.C. School Board President R. Calvin Lockridge said yesterday that the school system should close seven of the 13 schools in the largely white, affluent neighborhoods west of Rock Creek because these schools are underutilized, and then bus the students to other parts of the city.
Lockridge's plan is the lastest radical measure that school officials have proposed in their feud with Mayor Marion Barry, the City Council and Congress about how to cut costs to counteract a worsening city financial crisis.
Because of the fiscal crunch, the school system has come under increasing pressure to close schools in the face of declining enrollments. School enrollment is expected to drop from 106,000 to 99,000 next September.
Lockridge said he was zeroing in on this section of the city because it has a high concentration of schools with far fewer students than they could accommodate and because these schools are sitting on some of the most valuable property owned by the school system.
The mayor has previously proposed selling off school properties to generate funds for the city.
Lockridge's proposal appeared to be a political gambit. It is aimed at the wealthiest, most politically sophisticated area of the city -- and the area where public schools are considered among the best.
The school board president seemed to be raising the possibilty that if the painful fiscal sacrifices long resisted by the board become necessary, they would fall most heavily on the community with the most power to stop them.
School Superintendent Vincent E. Reed has proposed separately the closing of 15 schools in various parts of the city. But none of those schools is west of Rock Creek Park.
"I am against closing any schools," Lockridge said. "But this [financial crisis] goes beyond education issues, [school closings] have become a political and financial issue. We ought to be able to have the support of the people with the most political clout and know-how, and they're in Ward 3," west of Rock Creek Park.
The proposal met with immediate and strong criticism from many of Lockridge's colleagues on the school board.
Board member Carol Schwartz, who represents Ward 3, called the idea "shocking" and accused the board president of "pandering to the most racist elements in this city."
She said there are only about 400 empty seats in Ward 3's 13 schools, while other wards have over 2,000. However, Ward 3, with only 5,661 students, has fewer schools and students than any other ward in the city.
"There's enormous amounts of discrimination in this city towards [the residents] west of Rock Creek Park," Schwartz said.
Alaire B. Rieffel, who represents neighboring Ward 2, into which Lockridge is proposing to bus some students, called the measure "blatantly racist . . . Calvin has gone too far this time."
Rieffel said Lockridge was "operating under the false pretense" that the schools in Ward 3 are underutilized. She said that because these buildings are old and most have no gyms or cafeterias, there is actually less space per pupil in these schools than in some of the newer ones.
School officials determine whether or not a school is operating at capacity through a complex formula that takes into account among other things square footage per pupil.
Nathaniel Bush, who represents Ward 7 in Northeast, said: "It seems to me that any time you talk about closing schools, you've got to use reason. I don't see any validity to [Lockridge's proposal]."
Board member John E. Warren, who chairs the committee handling the budget revisions, said, "I appreciate the efforts to deal with the financial crisis, but in all fairness, I think the residents in Ward 3 are entitled to some community schools."
"Lockridge is joking: he's having fun -- at somebody's expense," said Eugene Kinlow, an at-large member of the board, who, like Lockridge, lives in Anacostia.
The school system ended any form of busing in 1974. Before then, students from overcrowded schools in predominantly black neighborhoods east of Rock Creek Park were bused to schools west of the park, in predominantly white neighborhoods.
But school officials eliminated the busing issue by building dozens of new schools in the Anacostia area over the last 10 years.
Lockridge said he will propose his plan formally at a board meeting tonight.
The board already has cut $27 million from the budget for the coming school year by cutting back on teachers, administrators and adult and preschool programs. Layoff notices have gone out to 350 elementary school teachers throughout the city, and another 300 to 400 teachers will get notice by the end of the week, Lockridge said.
Lockridge said the system still is in danger of running out of money for fiscal year 1980, which ends Sept. 30, and that the opening of school this year may have to be delayed until Oct. 1.
Lockridge said his proposal would not effect Wilson High School, Deal Junior High School, or Hyde, Mann, Murch and Oyster Elementary schools, all of which are operating either near or above capacity.
It would affect some 2,000 students attending Eaton, Hardy, Hearst, Janney, Key, Lafayette and Stoddart elementary schools. None of these schools has more than 300 pupils.
Reed said last night he did not know much about Lockridge's plan, "but I don't think you can look at that area of the city in isolation."
Reed has proposed closing Bryan, Bunker Hill, Cleveland, Fillmore, Giddings, Hamilton, Langston, Lincoln, Nall Nichols Avenue, Randall, Slater, Smothers, Syphax and Woodridge next September.