School consolidation is central to DC Public Schools reform, closing under-used school buildings. The chief reason DC schools are so empty: middle-class families leaving Washington as their children reach school age because DCPS education is inadequate. It as if DCPS is a powerful engine pumping middle class families into the suburbs, leaving an uneasy mix of very rich and very poor families and the childless.
Certainly the primary goal of DCPS reform is quality education for our city’s children; retaining middle class families will be an indicator that DCPS has reached qualitative parity with suburban schools. It also means population growth for the city and its tax base and DCPS, so selling off school properties makes little sense if eventual growth of the school population is expected. Of course, flipping properties is fine with real estate developers, and developers tend to be generous campaign contributors. City officials will need strong input from citizens and nonprofits if common sense and long-range thinking are to prevail.
Leasing out unused school space is clearly one answer. After years of neglect, most school buildings are not worth saving, but the land they are on can be leased for two or three decades, the lifespan of most commercial buildings today. That is a realistic timeline for DCPS to reach qualitative parity suburban schools to the point where additional capacity is required.
DC schools are unique in our city: by contract, they have employee parking so teachers can commute in from their Prince Georges County homes. Use of DCPS school sites perfect for software, broadcasting, and other aspects of the vaunted “creative economy” would have minimal impact on nearby residential neighborhoods.
If D.C. officials sell off DCPS properties, they will fail Washington school children of the future. Unlike failing school students, they won’t get to repeat their terms.
UPDATE: After this was written, the Mayor’s FY 2009 Budget Testimony became available. Mayor Fenty called for the transfer of maintenance of vacated by DCPS buildings to the Office of Property Management (OPM), and repurposing of buildings to include use as DC Government offices. This will move more of our employees out to the neighborhoods, closer to the residents they serve, while preserving the option of converting the buildings back to schools if future enrollment requires their use,” according to the mayor.
While this has the virtue of eliminating the exorbitant sums spent on DC government leased quarters, the $4 million allocated to “repurposimg” won’t go far, even if plans can be produced in-house at the Office of Planning. “Repurposing” would certainly take more than a year.
After the debacle of simultaneous ward-level school closing hearings, additional hearings have been held. A few more are on the schedule, all at 6:00pm to 8:00pm:
April 3 (this evening) – Ward 7
Location: Kelly Miller Middle School
301 49th Street, NE
Washington, DC 20019
Schools slated for closure: Merritt, Benning
April 7 – Ward 8
Location: Patterson Elementary School
4399 S. Capitol Terrace, SW
Washington, DC 20032
Schools slated for closure: Douglass, PR Harris
April 9 – Ward 4
Location: Barnard Elementary School
430 Decatur Street, NW
Washington, DC 20011
Schools slated for closure: Clark, Rudolph
April 10 – Ward 5
Location: McKinley Tech High School
151 T Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002
Schools slated for closure: Backus, Taft, Slowe, JF Cook, MM Washington, Young
Hat tip: Office of Councilman Kwame Brown
Image by Mike Licht, who gives this one a C (he grades on a curve).