- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 12, 2000

In 1995, Congress ordered city officials to draw up a master facilities plan for schools. The city's leaders, in turn, asked parents and other taxpayers to participate in the effort. Together, they have drafted a blueprint that should guide the city's school renovation efforts for years to come.

Among other things, it calls either for modernizing or replacing each of the city's school houses over the next 15 years at a cost of some $2 billion. Schools from every part of the city are included in each phase of the construction effort, the better to ensure no geographic region benefits more than another.

To get some idea of the job ahead, consider the proposal for H.D. Woodson, which calls for building a new public high school to replace the seven-story monstrosity that opened in 1972. The plan's authors came to that conclusion after much debate regarding demographics, finances and Woodson's academic situation. "The tower has too many problems (with) heating, cooling, security," they said in a preliminary report. "Woodson's facilities, academic designs and electrical/ mechanical systems are woefully inadequate." The estimated cost of modernizing Woodson is $32 million, and rebuilding it would cost about $40 million.

Carefully left undiscussed in the report are the inevitable closing and consolidation of some schools in the city. The D.C. school system has lost at least 21,000 students since the early 1990s. Most of those students fled the city alongside their parents, and several thousand others attend charter schools that now occupy some of those closed public facilities.

It's now up to city officials the D.C. school board, city council, mayor and financial control board to do a couple of things. The first order of business is to adopt the master facilities plan drawn up by taxpayers who met for many months in all eight wards, weighing a variety of options before making their proposal. The $2 billion price tag on this proposal is bound to be controversial. But no one expects the $2 billion to be in the bank right now. One way to start raising the money would be for the mayor and the council to get busy selling the dozen or so schools that are dry rotting around the city.

Another issue bound to invite questions has to do with the upcoming release of 2000 census data showing shifts in school-age populations around the city. City officials can modify this draft plan accordingly, but shouldn't use the data as an excuse to scrap it. City taxpayers have lived up to their end of the school planning process. Now the city's leaders must do the same.

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