- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 14, 2006

In his April 28 testimony before the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, D.C. Superintendent of Schools Clifford Janey said he and the school board are committed “to rightsize our facilities and maximize their use through colocations with community-based organizations, city agencies and public-private partnerships.” What Mr. Janey says and what the board subsequently does are being closely watched this week.

Today, the superintendent is scheduled to make public his plan, and school activists are holding a town hall meeting this evening. The remarks of one parent quoted in the online Common Denominator is illustrative of where those activists stand: “It’s so important that all school communities look out for each other in this process — that we all insist that any rightsizing plan provide clear benefits to DCPS and our children, and not just cause needless chaos and disruption.”

Emotions are running high. News reports have said up to 10 schools with low enrollments could be closed or consolidated by the end of this school year. There also have been reports of school mergers and traditional schools and charter schools sharing facilities. Initial plans were somewhat modified earlier this spring, when school authorities decided to include using underutilized schools for office space.

All of the above efforts are needed. The fact of the rightsizing matter is that D.C. Public Schools’ inventory consists of too many schools (140-plus) for its steadily declining enrollment, which now stands at about 55,600 students and continues to drop by the thousands each year. For taxpayers and underachieving students, the cost to maintain that many buildings is prohibitive.

The Board of Education is scheduled to vote Wednesday on the Janey facilities plan. It’s a vote that follows planning meetings among parents, activists and other stakeholders. It also follows a vote by the D.C. Council to appropriate hundreds of millions of dollars each year to renovate the school inventory.

The superintendent’s No. 1 challenge is to raise the academic stock of D.C. students. He can accomplish that by closing some schools, handing some schools over to private and non-for-profit organizations, and modernizing the remaining inventory for students and teachers. If Mr. Janey neglects to propose as much, and if he focuses on “the school system” instead of the school students, then the board should have no problem rejecting his plan.

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