THE D.C. SCHOOL BOARD'S rejection of Superintendent Floretta McKenzie's recommendation to close 14 schools was not the last word on this issue--nor should it be. In spite of board member John Warren's premature pronouncement that "this is dead, this is over with," most of his colleagues seem to think differently. Rather than vote on the entire package of 14 schools at once, which was the question at Monday's session, the board did the easier political thing--and bought itself a little time.
Not much, we hope--just enough to work quickly and cooperatively with Mrs. McKenzie on a sharper proposal than the one served up by the school staff for this round. There is no question that some schools need to be closed as a cost-saving measure, but action is needed on two fronts:
The schools proposed for closing should be considered one by one, with all available data, instead of as a package.
The school board and the D.C. Council should agree on a leasing authority that would allow the board to lease unused space and to use revenues for education purposes. These steps can and should be taken before school ends in June, so reassignments and adjustments can be made over the summer.
At this point, for example, there seems to be a majority in favor of keeping open six schools of the 14: Congress Heights, Syphax, Payne, Woodridge, Hamilton Junior High and the Fillmore Art Center. That leaves eight schools that could form the first group to be closed, with the space to be leased for other use: Barnard, Carver, Cleveland, Lovejoy, Nichols Avenue, Bundy, Slater and Langston.
School Board President David Eaton says he plans a meeting of the board with Mrs. McKenzie in a few days, and the occasion should be used to agree on some proposed closings and begin the necessary public hearings. In the meantime, the council should take up the matter of leasing authority, even though some members would rather look the other way during their campaign year. School closings are not pleasant decisions, for sure; but responsible members of the council know that wasting money on unecessary facilities--instead of converting them into revenue-raisers--is neither popular nor right in these tight times.