D.C. Schools chancellor Kaya Henderson is calling for an overhaul of the process for mapping out school modernizations in the coming years, saying that the renovations have become overly political and prohibitively expensive.
“My very honest assessment is that the whole CIP process is jacked up,” she said, referring to the Capital Improvement Plan, a six-year capital budget and construction plan that outlines the timing for school modernizations.
The queue for renovations is included in the mayor’s budget and submitted to the D.C. Council each spring. It gets rearranged annually, with some projects moving up or back or growing in scale and price tag. It also typically gets adjusted again halfway through the year.
The city has invested more than $1 billion in school renovations in recent years, turning old buildings marked by decades of neglect into state-of-the-art facilities. But many communities are frustrated about schools that have had partial renovations or none at all.
Henderson said she "can’t bear” to go through another spring" fielding reactions to changes in the timeline for construction.
She proposed developing a task force within the next year that would come up with a way to develop the capital plan according to some “very transparent” and “logical” criteria rather than “how loudly your community screams.”
She said the criteria should include the building’s condition and school enrollment, with more crowded schools getting higher priority. She suggested that the number of “at-risk” students could also be a factor.
Adding to the pressure is the cost of construction, which Henderson said has grown 30 percent, limiting the number of projects the school district can take on in a given year.
“We have got to get some discipline around what kind of schools we are building,” she said.
“The truth of the matter is we need to figure out how we can do this, because there is no way we can keep all the promises that we have made,” she said.
Her comments came during an annual oversight hearing before the D.C. Council Education Committee Tuesday.
Projects that are scheduled to begin this fiscal year would not be affected.
D.C. Council member David Grosso (At large) said during an open house shortly after he became chairman of the education committee that he would like to bring more transparency to the capital planning process for schools. He noted that compliance with the American Disabilities Act should be a priority.
Lisa Ruda, deputy chancellor for operations for D.C. Public Schools, reported at the hearing Tuesday that all schools in the District are now compliant with the federal law, but she said 55 schools still have some part or parts of the building that are not fully accessible.
That continues to be a goal as the facilities are modernized, she said.