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Local: Education

Report: D.C. lacks plan for school buildings

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Local,DC,Education,Rachel Baye,Vincent Gray

The District's lack of a citywide plan for school buildings has led to conflict between traditional and charter schools and an inefficient use of funds, according to a report Mayor Vincent Gray released Wednesday.

The city has spent nearly $1.5 billion renovating DC Public Schools buildings over the last four years and has completed renovations at 64 schools. DCPS plans to close 13 schools in June and two more at the end of next school year.

However, those plans do not address uneven enrollment growth across the city -- which is putting too many students in some schools and leaving empty seats in others -- or the numerous DCPS schools that have sat empty since being closed in 2008 "without a long-term plan for future use or an interim plan for the reuse of these facilities," the report details.

Neighborhoods where new school facilities are most needed
Cluster 2: Columbia Heights, Mount Pleasant, Pleasant Plains, Park View
Cluster 7: Shaw, Logan Circle
Cluster 18: Brightwood Park, Crestwood, Petworth
Cluster 25: Union Station, Stanton Park, Kingman Park
Cluster 33: Capitol View, Marshall Heights, Benning Heights
Cluster 36: Woodland/Fort Stanton, Garfield Heights, Knox Hill
Cluster 39: Congress Heights, Bellevue, Washington Highlands
Source: D.C. 2013 Public Education Master Facilities Plan

Meanwhile, "charter schools open wherever they can find space that is both affordable and sufficient for their needs, and many remain in substandard facilities," often in conflict with DCPS.

To address these imbalances and prepare for an expected boom in student enrollment, the report, overseen by Interim Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Leonard, recommends changing the way the city funds public schools.

Currently, school funding is based on the number of students enrolled at a school, so the more students a school enrolls, the more money the school gets. The report recommends concentrating funds in schools that are in neighborhoods with a high number of school-age children but have low enrollment, as a way to attract parents and students.

In the short term, DCPS should share buildings that have extra space with charter schools. In the more distant future, the school system should offer space to startup businesses, libraries, senior services, health clinics or other community facilities, the report advises.

DCPS also should adjust its renovation plans in the short term to make sure the entrance to every school is upgraded to present a more welcoming environment, and in the long term to ensure schools in neighborhoods with the largest populations of school-age children are prioritized.

Middle schools should be renovated before other schools to stifle a pattern of students leaving the District's public schools -- both traditional and charters -- during the middle school years.

DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson and Public Charter School Board Executive Director Scott Pearson praised the report for its efforts to improve school facilities.

"Charter school students attend public schools, and they need access to first-rate facilities," Pearson said.

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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