D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray on Thursday proposed spending $442 million on school construction in the coming fiscal year, as well as $79 million more on schools' daily operations and $7.4 million for charter school facilities.
Among the construction projects proposed for fiscal 2014 is $85 million toward the construction of a new Ballou Senior High School in Ward 8, whose groundbreaking was Tuesday, $38 million toward a $127 million renovation of Roosevelt High School in Ward 4 and upgrades at 15 elementary schools and six middle schools.
The projects are part of $1.8 billion Gray has proposed spending to renovate existing schools and build new ones over the next six years, following $2.5 billion that already has been spent on DC Public Schools' construction plans.
|Schools proposed for renovation in fiscal 2014:|
|Aiton Elementary School (Ward 7)|
|Hearst Elementary School (Ward 3)|
|Houston Elementary School (Ward 7)|
|Hyde-Addison Elementary School (Ward 2)|
|Janney Elementary School (Ward 1)|
|Lafayette Elementary School (Ward 4)|
|Malcolm X Elementary School (Ward 8)|
|Mann Elementary School (Ward 3)|
|Orr Elementary School (Ward 7)|
|Payne Elementary School (Ward 6)|
|Plummer Elementary School (Ward 7)|
|River Terrace Elementary School (Ward 1)|
|Shepherd Elementary School (Ward 4)|
|Stanton Elementary School (Ward 8)|
|West Elementary School (Ward 4)|
|Brookland Middle School (Ward 5)|
|Johnson Middle School (Ward 8)|
|Kramer Middle School (Ward 8)|
|Rose-Reno School, in connection with Alice Deal Middle School (Ward 3)|
|Shaw Middle School (Ward 1)|
|Stuart-Hobson Middle School (Ward 6)|
|Ballou Senior High School (Ward 8)|
|Dunbar Senior High School (Ward 1)|
|Ellington High School (Ward 2)|
|Roosevelt High School (Ward 4)|
|Spingarn Career and Technical Education Center, formerly Spingarn High School (Ward 5)|
|Also in the budget|
|• $15 million over the next three years to be spent on 300 new school buses for special education students|
|• $9 million over the next two years for new technology in schools|
|• $12 million over the next two years on a new digital information system to track students' academic achievement across DC Public Schools and charter schools|
|• $70 million over the next six years toward a $210 million renovation of buildings at the University of the District of Columbia, including the construction of a new student center|
But at-large D.C. Councilman David Catania, chairman of the council's Education Committee, questioned whether all the money being spent on school expansions was being spent wisely. He pointed to Ballou, where roughly half the seats are filled, and Coolidge High School -- slated for renovations in fiscal 2015, 2016 and 2017 -- where 41 percent of the seats are filled.
"I'm just asking that there be some smart planning with respect to these expenditures," he said, adding that spending more than is necessary on high schools takes money away from elementary and middle schools.
Gray justified the new Ballou building by pointing to the adults who will take classes there in the evenings.
The mayor released his budget proposal on the heels of a report by his office that criticized the District's lack of a citywide plan for school buildings. Charter schools open "haphazardly" across the city, while uneven enrollment growth has caused DCPS to announce the closings of 15 underenrolled schools this year.
That report suggested directing city funds to build new buildings in parts of the city where enrollment is low despite a large population of children. "Rather than focus on a few neighborhoods where enrollment has been historically high, this redistribution of resources ensures that parents and students will have a high quality school facility to choose from in every neighborhood," the report advised.
Catania disagreed. The focus should be on attracting parents by improving school programs, rather than with new buildings, he said.
He criticized the lack of funding in the budget for truancy prevention programs. Gray's budget has $1 million, while Catania said the city should spent $1.5 million on preventing truancy among just ninth-graders.
He also suggested the city spend $30 million on technology in schools, rather than the $9 million Gray allocated.
"We're just building buildings with the hope that people will put their children in them," he said. "Bricks and mortar alone do not make a good school. They make for great ribbon cuttings."