The Fenty administration didn’t do a good job managing school inventory, and that’s something the Gray administration must keep in mind as the mayor and the District’s school, property-management and financial advisers decide how to reconcile the supply of public school buildings with shifting student bodies and the ever-growing demand for choice.
At the current juncture, about three dozen school buildings might be closed for various reasons.
Chief among them are academic shortcomings, the high costs of maintaining aged and aging buildings and what is called underutilization.
Notice what’s missing?
Because planners always say closing or consolidating schools will save X amount of dollars, but they almost always fail to take into account that closing a school involves far more than merely turning out the lights and padlocking the doors.
Now back to the real No. 1 reason, which also is a false premise.
Academic shortcomings are a false premise because education’s bottom line is teaching and learning. So, if the teaching half of the education equation is up to or above par and teachers move to another school following closings, learning should follow suit. But that’s not happening.
In fact, many of the city’s most academically troubled schools are always, always, always situated east of North Capitol and South Capitol streets, two of the national capital’s original lines of demarcation. Those schools are in some of the poorest neighborhoods.
Next is premise No. 3: underutilization.
Many of the traditional public schools in the city are underenrolled, so to speak, because parents have opted instead for neighborhood public charter schools, which fulfill their children’s academic needs and maintain a sense of community.
Charter parents, especially poor parents who saw the traditional public school system nose-diving and didn’t need the No Child Left Behind Act to remind them, grabbed their own empowerment tools and took advantage of charters and specialized schools (some of which are charter schools and some of which are magnet programs in traditional schools).
The voucher programs for poor families cut into traditional enrollment, too, and that’s another issue that leaves the bitterest of tastes in the mouths of anti-school-choicers.
This brings us to No. 2: maintaining aged and aging school facilities.