Well it finally arrived. The Master Facilities Plan that was promised to us by the Deputy Mayor of Education’s office to be completed by January was released yesterday, and as we could have predicted it offers nothing in the way of solving the critical problem of physical classroom space that D.C. charters face. It does, however, contain eight strategic goals. Here’s my favorite: “Upgrade the main entrance of every school that is yet to be modernized.” I’m so glad we didn’t hold our breath waiting for this study.
What is clear is that the authors do not understand for a minute the dynamic nature of school choice that currently exists in the nation’s capital:
“Enrollment is uneven across the District and, as a result, DCPS has now completed a closure and consolidation plan, which will close as many as 15 schools. Additionally, several schools in the DCPS inventory have sat vacant since they were closed in 2008 without a long-term plan for future use or an interim plan for the reuse of these facilities. Many of the schools that remain open are closed to the broader community.
At the same time, the network of charter schools is growing haphazardly. Charter schools open wherever they find space that is both affordable and sufficient for their needs, and many remain in substandard facilities. Charter schools’ facility needs are not coordinated with DCPS facility plans and conflict at times.”
I get the sense that those behind this report would want nothing more than another bureaucrat to mandate how many charters are allowed to exist and where they must be located. Or perhaps they would rather these alternative schools that now educate 43 percent of all public school children to simply disappear.
Evidence for this assertion is that fact that the document does not even provide a hint of a proposal for equitable funding of facility needs between the two school systems. Alternatively, it does contain material that will almost certainly raise the blood pressure of any charter leader who wades into its pages:
“As part of the reform effort, the District has undertaken a substantial rehabilitation program to modernize the physical infrastructure for our public schools since 2008. The District has spent nearly $1.5 billion and completed work at 64 schools, encompassing 7.3 million square feet.”
And just think the city is only halfway through this work.
So I guess those of us involved with these alternative schools are supposed to just sit still, happy that this year we get our $3,000 per pupil facility allotment that still remains on the books at $2,800. Around us sits 10 vacant DCPS buildings that are providing a ready source of copper pipes that can be sold on the black market. We wait for 15 additional traditional sites to be closed that will never be designated as surplus so that they can remain safely in the DCPS inventory. We teach kids in storefronts, church basements, and warehouses and spend every waking moment in a panic over where we will find permanent space. Then, perhaps after another fourteen hour day, we go to bed thanking our lucky stars that Malcolm Peabody and some bold politicians created charters in Washington, D.C.