Deputy Mayor for Education De’Shawn Wright didn’t have good news for Ward 4 residents at last week’s meeting on school modernization. And he made the situation worse by insulting them, according to some who attended.
Wright announced that Coolidge and Roosevelt high schools would have their renovations postponed for a year under the new proposed capital budget. Then, in answering a question from the audience, he said that he wouldn’t send his child or godchild (there are conflicting versions) to either school because of the poor conditions. Many took it as a slam against the staff and student bodies.
“Very hurtful,” said D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) who co-moderated the evening with State Board of Education member Kamili Anderson at the Coolidge auditorium.
“How does a person responsible for public education come to a school and say that the conditions are not fit for him and ‘I’m not going to fix it.’”? Bowser asked.
Wright, who does not have children, said in an e-mail Sunday evening that he later tried to explain to the audience what he meant, and that he’s been taken out of context.
“My intention was only to recognize that the physical environments do not currently reflect the full amenities/resources that our kids need and deserve--and that I share the desire to see the Ward 4 community have the type of high-quality facilities that all of us would want for our kids....I reiterate my great appreciation and respect for the hard work and dedication of our educators and students in both school communities.”
Roosevelt and Coolidge families have watched and waited over the last few years as makeovers or total reconstructions of Woodrow Wilson, H.D. Woodson, School Without Walls, Cardozo and Anacostia have all been launched or completed. According to the current capital budget, design work on the $66 million modernization of Roosevelt is due to begin this fall, with occupancy by August 2015. Coolidge is a year behind, with design scheduled to start in fall 2014 and work completed by August 2016.
Under Wright’s proposed revision, a modernized Roosevelt would not be ready before 2016, or Coolidge before 2017. Bowser said she would fight for the city “to keep its promises to Ward 4.”
Wright said the delays were necessary “to allow for the right-sizing” of other construction budgets in the capital plan--another way of saying more money is needed for school projects closer to the front of the line. Wright did say that the one-year-delay would mean more money for Roosevelt and Coolidge. But he also did not rule out the possibility that one of the two schools would close. He said that the matter was not under “active” consideration, an answer that didn’t fill anyone with confidence.
Both schools need immediate help, parents and students said, no matter what changes are made to the capital budget. Roosevelt senior Jacquan Clark, who attended the meeting with his mother, the school’s PTA secretary, said there are rats, mold and rainwater that routinely drips through the ceilings. At least one bathroom has no sink.
To hear Wright, he said, just made it all worse.
“It was a complete, disrespectful waste of time,” Clark said. “Disrespectful and heartbreaking.”