The D.C. Council narrowly rejected Tuesday a proposal from Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) to build a new campus for an elite high school on vacant property in the booming Shaw neighborhood.
Instead, the council by a 7-to-6 vote supported keeping Benjamin Banneker Academic High School on its Columbia Heights campus. That could pave the way for a middle school on the property in Shaw.
Shaw Junior High closed about a decade ago amid declining enrollment. In more recent years, the Northwest Washington neighborhood’s elementary schools have attracted families who are pushing for a stand-alone middle school.
D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), who voted to keep Banneker on its existing campus, said some had wrongly pitted the high school against Shaw families.
“We have two [D.C. schools] communities with broken promises,” Silverman said. “This is what is so dispiriting to me. We take those two communities that have legitimate concern, legitimate anger, legitimate frustration, and we pit them against each other.”
The dispute over what to do with the vacant school property in Shaw is not settled.
The council must take a final stand on the issue as part of its last budget vote this month and could strike a deal on Banneker. Bowser has been an outspoken supporter of moving Banneker to Shaw. Her administration said Tuesday it would spend the next weeks explaining to the community and council why it views the council proposal as ruinous.
Banneker had been slated for renovations at its site in the 800 block of Euclid Street NW. In October, Bowser announced she wanted to move the popular high school to Shaw, igniting opposition from residents who sought a middle school. The neighborhood middle school for Shaw students is Cardozo Education Campus, with grades six through 12.
The mayor’s proposed 2020 budget included $140 million over two years to rebuild the Banneker school on the empty campus, which the Bowser administration said would allow enrollment to expand from 500 to 800.
But Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) proposed Monday evening to give Banneker about $88 million for renovations in Columbia Heights. About $10 million in additional renovation money exists, having sat unused in the current budget. Mendelson’s budget also allocated $53 million to build a middle school on the Shaw site.
But his effort to keep Banneker in Columbia Heights was challenged by another council member, David Grosso (I-At Large), who chairs the education committee. Grosso introduced the measure Tuesday to move Banneker to Shaw — and to keep the $140 million in funding Bowser had proposed.
“All around, we have let down the Banneker community in a meaningful way,” Grosso said.
Council members who rejected the proposal from the mayor and Grosso were Mendelson, Silverman, Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) and Charles Allen (D-Ward 6).
On the losing side — those aligned with the mayor in wanting to move the high school — were Grosso and members Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4), Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward-5), Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large), Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) and Anita Bonds (D At Large).
Paul Kihn, deputy mayor for education, said the council’s action would not provide enough money to renovate Banneker or to build a new middle school. Kihn said the Bowser administration plan would result in a new Banneker campus for the 2021-2022 school year. He said if the council prevails in keeping Banneker at its existing site, renovations could take longer than building a new campus.
“What the council is proposing is a lose-lose situation,” Kihn said in an interview.
Mendelson said Tuesday that he would work to find the money to fully renovate Banneker and that he was committed to increasing its renovation budget this month.
“It was not my intent that Banneker get shortchanged in the budget.”