- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 11, 2007

D.C. lawmakers, like parents and students, are mad and they are not going to take it anymore — and it’s about time. The source of their discontent is D.C. Public Schools (DCPS), which has long tied the hands of stakeholders who rightly contend that the school system moves like a slug on plans regarding renovation projects and even routine maintenance and then haphazardly carries out those plans once they are developed. Fed up, the D.C. Council last week essentially handed down a cease-and-desist order.

The move means the lawmakers delayed the approval of an estimated $1 billion in contracts that Superintendent Clifford Janey wants to spend on facilities projects. The contracts are part of a so-called emergency blitz to fix mechanical systems and restrooms and to make routine repairs at some schools. Lawmakers agree with Mr. Janey that the work must be done, and the cost in and of itself is not the problem. After all, DCPS didn’t even have a detailed plan in hand last spring when the council approved a $2.3 billion renovation plan. And, in fact, the superintendent didn’t develop a draft until September.

The dispute stems from concerns that there still is no detailed plan on the contracts and recent history proves DCPS lacks the capacity to effectively and efficiently do repairs and renovations (as we have editorialized on many occasions). Indeed, the modernization of McKinley High School is but one example. Closed in 1997, McKinley reopened in 2004 as “high-tech high.” Initial estimates put the cost of the renovation at $25 million. But, according to the Office of the D.C. Auditor, cost overruns amounted to $81 million.

Who and what are at fault is undeniable. As the 2006 audit concluded:

Some contracts lacked justification and approval.

There was inadequate planning by school employees.

Contract modifications changed the scope of work.

There were errors and/or omissions by the architect/designer.

School employees failed to adequately monitor, review and approve contracts.

School employees failed to adequately review invoices.

To say that everything that could go wrong did go wrong paints the clearest picture of the shortcomings at DCPS. With the superintendent’s latest “plan,” the council thinks (and we do, too) that DCPS has failed to grasp both the urgency and seriousness of its failure to rein in the morass. The council’s suspicion is well-placed because the onerous and inefficient DCPS bureaucracy is as entrenched in the Janey administration as it was in past administrations. The council should review every DCPS dollar sign as closely as possible.

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