D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray pressed for school closings Wednesday as he and the D.C. Public Schools chief discussed cutting costs to find new revenue for ideas such as an extended school day.
Gray said he will make an announcement within the next few weeks on school closures, which have loomed since a January study commissioned by the mayor recommended that the city turn around or close about three dozen schools in poor neighborhoods.
"People have very nostalgic, emotional ties to schools in this city," said Gray, copping to "fond" memories of his own time in the school system. "But I think even more fondly of what we [need to do] right now."
Enrollment in DCPS appears to be stabilizing after four decades of steady decline. But the school system's 45,191-student body is still vastly below the 65,748 enrollment of 10 years ago, leaving many of the roughly 220 school buildings significantly underenrolled. At least 40 schools have 300 or fewer students.
"Just do the math on it -- it's not sustainable," Gray said. "We're going to have to consolidate."
The last round of school closings, undertaken by former Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and former Mayor Adrian Fenty, was not received well by many areas of the city, particularly Wards 5, 7 and 8, which bore the brunt of the closings. Rhee's decision to consolidate schools in Ward 5, mostly by creating K-8 campuses at elementary schools, was partially reversed by current Chancellor Kaya Henderson in March.
Henderson cautioned Wednesday that decisions about school closings would be in conjunction with a boundary study and closer examination of school feeder patterns.
Gray said he did not have a timeline for closings, but that "it's right in the middle of the radar screen" and "we will be back at you in a couple weeks to talk about the closing of schools."
Reducing these "fixed costs" would free up more cash for classrooms, Gray and Henderson said. The school system recently announced $10 million in grants for schools looking to innovate by extending the school day or school year, or other nontraditional means, noting that this would allow principals to test these ideas.
Gray said he supported a longer school day for the entire system, but both he and the chancellor noted that they were limited by funding.
"If that's where we're going, we'll have to recoup the spending from somewhere," Henderson said.