It is a dream scenario for District leaders: Parents rallying around their neighborhood school and vowing to be a part of its renaissance.
That’s been happening in the rapidly gentrifying Northwest Washington neighborhood of Logan Circle, where a growing number of parents are hoping to send their young children to school down the street rather than move to the suburbs.
Scores of neighbors organized to keep Garrison Elementary School open when low enrollment and poor performance put it at risk of closing in 2012. In response, the city agreed to keep the doors open and committed to modernizing the outdated facility.
But this month, Garrison supporters were disappointed to learn that renovation funding had been pushed back for a second year in a row — casting the city’s commitment into doubt.
“We really see this as an opportunity to capture these kids in a D.C. public school, and we don’t see any support or reassurance from [D.C. Public Schools] and the mayor’s office that they share the vision,” said Nancy Fox, vice president of the PTO at Garrison and the parent of a 3-year-old in preschool there.
The plan was included in a letter from Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) last Friday. In the letter, Bowser requested the reprogramming of nearly $50 million from the current fiscal year’s capital expenditures.
Reshuffling capital spending to accelerate some school projects and delay work scheduled on others is an annual ritual. Last year, then-Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) sought to reprogram $100 million, including funds that had been intended for a partial renovation at Garrison. A few months later, the council voted for a full modernization of the school during the next two years. Then, this year, the funding was reduced again.
Bowser’s $50 million request needs the council’s approval.
A Bowser administration official said that reprogramming decisions were intended to direct more resources to projects that are ready to be started or can be finished in this budget year. The official said that funding for Garrison’s renovation will be included in the capital budget for the next two years.
Kenneth Diggs, a spokesman for the Department of General Resources, which oversees the city’s building projects, said some factors have slowed the project’s design.
The school occupies the historic site of a former Civil War camp, and officials continue to analyze whether the school should be renovated or torn down and rebuilt. Those issues should be resolved and the design completed this year so construction can begin next fiscal year, he said.
“The Garrison community is upset — rightfully and understandably so — but their project will be a state-of-the-art facility,” Diggs said.
Fox said she hopes that the funds will be included in the coming fiscal year’s budget, but she’s worried about the effect of uncertainty on decisions that families are making now as they apply for schools in the citywide enrollment lottery.
Designs also have been difficult to complete at Marie Reed Elementary, Diggs said, which stands to lose $12.9 million in the current year’s budget. He said funding is expected to be included in next year’s construction spending plans.
Other schools whose construction budgets were reduced this year include Murch Elementary ($5 million) and Watkins Elementary ($7.2 million).
Budgeted funds that were designated for the planning of a Ward 4 middle school and a Ward 7 application-only middle school were reduced by $4.25 million and $5.25 million, respectively, to $2.75 million apiece.
The winners in the revised budget proposal this year included Duke Ellington School of the Arts ($7.5 million); Roosevelt High School ($5.7 million); Payne Elementary ($9 million); and Stanton Elementary ($7 million).
Diggs said the extra costs this year reflect the rising cost of construction in general and some opportunities to accelerate projects and get them done sooner.
Mary Filardo, executive director of the nonprofit 21st Century School Fund and an expert on school facilities, said decisions about capital spending in the city are often political, made behind closed doors and made without clear criteria.
The process creates “room for inefficiencies and waste and some abuse of the program, not to mention public ire,” she said.