- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2007

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty yesterday said his plan to renovate dilapidated public school buildings involves letting private developers motivated by “civic pride” help pay for maintenance and perform repairs.

“Some people will see their own business interests in having an excellent school system, others are philanthropic and they want to be supportive of the school system,” Mr. Fenty said. “They get a great-looking school in the neighborhood, which is important for the community.”

The mayor said “scores” of developers have expressed interest in helping rebuild crumbling school facilities. He plans to create a Developers’ Education Roundtable that would let developers who do business in the District “adopt” schools and help provide “supplies, repairs and upkeep for a determined period of time,” according to his transition strategy.

The partnership would help businesses prepare the city’s future work force and also ensure vast improvements are made to school facilities before the next school year begins in August.

Gina Arlotto, co-founder of the nonprofit Save Our Schools DC, called the proposal a “huge red flag.”

“For anyone to act like the developers’ roundtable is going to be a big boost for DCPS, you’re really fooling yourself,” Mrs. Arlotto said. “We have said for years the developers want these properties, they will do anything to get their foot in the door.”

The plan coincides with Mr. Fenty’s proposal earlier this week to raise other private funds to pay for education reforms that could exceed the city’s budget.

But using money from business interests to pay for school facilities could renew concerns about developers seeking real estate owned by the school system for their own use and profit.

“The history of this community has been developers aren’t just looking to help from their hearts, but they’re looking for something to line their pockets with,” said Marc Borbely, a schools activist and former teacher who runs the Web site FixOurSchools.net. “This either could be great or it could be really the start of many people’s fears being realized.”

Mr. Fenty also plans to raise private funds to support initiatives — including a forensic audit of school system operations — that “may be above what is funded through the city’s budget,” according to his transition proposal.

Raising private money to fund public education projects is modeled after similar moves made by school officials in New York City, where Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg also won control over public schools.

Mr. Bloomberg raised more than $300 million in private money to fund initiatives such as a principals’ Leadership Academy and the opening of several small schools.

But New York’s use of private funding also sparked criticism that the public was not made aware of how much of the money was spent or how effectively it was spent.

“The problem with the private funding route is that there is no public accountability,” said Diane Ravitch, a research professor of education at New York University and a senior fellow at both the Hoover and Brookings institutions. “I can’t recall ever seeing an accounting of what has been done with the money, other than the Leadership Academy.”

Mr. Fenty said the public would be aware of donations made by the private sector and insisted there would not be any “undue influence” won by developers or corporations because of their donations.

“We will make sure that whatever we do complies completely with District law, or else it will not be done,” he said.

Mr. Fenty also said yesterday the transition will include developing an updated schools budget to determine potential savings; a search for a person to head the Office of Ombudsman for Public Education and a comprehensive management review that will likely determine the fate of schools Superintendent Clifford B. Janey.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Rudy F. Crew told a Miami radio station earlier this month that he is being courted by D.C. officials, but Mr. Fenty said the review will have to be completed before a decision is made on who will fill the position of schools chancellor.

Mr. Fenty also said officials plan to contract the consulting firm KPMG to correct material weaknesses in the school system identified in an audit earlier this year.

The measures are part of the mayor’s transition into authority over the school system, a change in school governance that was approved by the D.C. Council last week and is awaiting passage by Congress.

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