- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 28, 2005

D.C. public school officials have proposed charging a nonprofit tutoring group evicted from its only school site custodial and security fees if the group is allowed to remain at the school, tutoring program officials said yesterday.

The fees could prevent Project Northstar — a D.C. tutoring program founded in 1989 — from returning to Hine Junior High School in Southeast, a tutoring site the group has used since 1994.

“They’ve basically given us some hoops to jump through,” said Brian Carome, executive director of Project Northstar. “They’re talking about charging us for various things, and if that’s the case, it may become cost-prohibitive for us to return.”

School officials could not be reached for comment yesterday. A Friday letter written by a high-ranking school official to Northstar President Robert D. Evans did not mention a proposal involving any fees.

Willie Jackson, who took over as Hine’s principal late last month, asked Northstar to leave Dec. 5, saying the program did not file a yearly building-use agreement as required by the public school system.

The school system also said in a written statement that Northstar never submitted an agreement during its 11 years at the school, but The Washington Times obtained a copy of an agreement that had been signed by a school administrator in 2003.

Officials later said the statement was an oversight, and they had located an expired agreement.

Peter Parham, chief of staff for schools Superintendent Clifford B. Janey, said in the Friday letter that Mr. Jackson initially was concerned about the level of supervision of the elementary-age students being tutored by Northstar.

Mr. Parham wrote that Mr. Jackson observed the children mingling with older children and adults who “loiter near the building” and “the fact that he could not locate a current valid use agreement for the organization was a major concern.”

The letter also stated that Mr. Jackson “has authorized Project Northstar’s continued operation at Hine, contingent upon implementation of a valid building-use agreement.”

In addition, the letter stated that Mr. Jackson has asked the school system’s Realty Office to look for other locations that could meet Northstar’s needs.

Northstar officials submitted a building-use agreement to the school system on Friday, Mr. Carome said, but he did not know yesterday whether the agreement had been processed and approved.

Mr. Carome said Northstar officials on Friday met with Mr. Jackson and Patricia Tucker, assistant superintendent of schools, to discuss the program’s future at Hine.

Mr. Carome said the fees were proposed at that meeting, but he said that Northstar has never paid the school system before for such services. He said school security officials told him the program’s current arrangement of using tutors and staff to monitor the site was acceptable.

The school system also proposed stricter background checks for Northstar tutors. Mr. Carome said the program already performs background checks.

“These are all things that contradict what they said in the past,” Mr. Carome said. “We can’t tell if they’re trying to make this work or trying to make it not work.”

D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, who serves as chairman of the council’s Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation, said she has made inquiries into the eviction and would work to find Northstar another tutoring site if the location at Hine falls through.

“Project Northstar has a fabulous reputation,” Mrs. Patterson said. “If D.C. Public Schools isn’t willing to let them use space, then I would certainly try to work with Project Northstar to try to find them other space.”

The program’s five other tutoring sites are scheduled to reopen Jan. 9 after winter break.

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