MAYOR VINCENT C. Gray (D) has pretty much shut the door on plans by KIPP DC to build a new high school on public land in Southwest Washington. His buckling to misguided opposition to the school imperils efforts by the high-performing charter operator to expand its facilities so that more students can benefit from a better education. We hope Mr. Gray will revisit his decision, or at least make good on his professed support for KIPP by helping it to find a viable alternative next year.
KIPP officials had eyed the Randall Park site, north of Nationals Park, as a replacement for its filled-to-capacity Southeast high school and had hoped the city would put the land out for bid so it could compete for its lease. The KIPP proposal, which would include a recreation center, athletic fields and swimming pool for community use, in addition to a state-of-the-art high school, would be financed with private money. (Donald E. Graham, chairman and chief executive of The Washington Post Co., is on the board of trustees of KIPP DC.)
Instead of putting the land — currently zoned for educational, recreational and health-care purposes — out for bid, Mr. Gray opted to undertake a study to map out a long-range strategic plan for the neighborhood. Administration officials defended the “Small Area Plan” as a way to make development decisions based on what the community wants. It’s clearly a stall to avoid controversy caused by the project. Particularly vehement opposition came from developers of a commercial project planned for an adjacent parcel; apparently a high school that serves low-income, mostly minority students is incompatible with new development, no matter how highly it is regarded.
The planning study won’t be completed until next year, which rules out the completion of new high school facilities in time for the 2014 opening envisioned by KIPP. The organization, which operates some of the city’s highest-performing schools, has been in search of new facilities for five years; to best serve its population, it needs a centrally located school that is Metro-accessible. Four hundred high school students are currently served by KIPP, and the organization wants to expand to 600 or 700. Every year that goes by means another missed chance to enroll an additional 50 ninth-graders and get more students off the waiting list.
Administration officials have hinted at plans in the coming weeks to make more surplus public school buildings available to facilities-starved charter schools. We hope that is the case and that a real priority is made to help a charter with a proven track record of getting underserved students to achieve, even if it means taking some flak.