- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 30, 2002

It is amazing, simply amazing, that the District, which is so very small in size, can also be the biggest dunce in the region when it comes to anything that has to do with public education. The most recent examples surfaced last week. On Thursday, the D.C. Auditor, which is the investigative arm of the city's legislature, released a report, saying that D.C. Public Schools was improperly billed for nearly $900,000 in utilities. Of course, it's clear how that happened, but more on that as you read along.

It is equally inexcusable that every elected official in this city promised parents and children that every public school house in the city an inventory that stands at approximately 145 would be renovated or built anew before 2015 rolls around, only to now learn from the General Accounting Office (GAO), which is the investigative arm of the national legislature, that it might not happen. According to the GAO, the city underestimated costs and now says taxpayers will have to dish out an additional $848 million. One reason for this is that officials pushed up the work on four elementary schools, including one in Ward 7, where the chairman of the education panel lives, and that move drove up costs.

So, what gives? There is no simple answer. Rest assured, though, there is plenty of political and socioeconomic skullduggery involved. First of all, the school modernization plan is indeed an ambitious one, considering, again, the size of the inventory and the time-frame. However, the process was all-inclusive: Parents, teachers, principals and community leaders all sat together in various regional clusters to decide not only which schools would be rebuilt, but which neighborhoods would get new schools, and then prioritized that list. It would surely be irresponsible to scale back that plan or even broaden the time-frame, since the only new school built in the District in two decades is essentially an exclusive school Oyster Bilingual in Northwest.

The District's children and teachers deserve better facilities. To now know that this crucial modernization plan is going to cost more than initially expected means one thing only. Mayor Anthony Williams, the D.C. Council and the Board of Education must do everything they can to restrain spending elsewhere and recommit themselves to the school modernization plan.

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