The man charged with modernizing the District’s public schools yesterday asked the D.C. Council to also give him control of school maintenance so he can eliminate bureaucratic hurdles that he says have impeded repairs.
“The current system is paralyzed,” said Allen Y. Lew, director of the office of public education facilities modernization. “DCPS is unable to get out of its own way.”
Mr. Lew said at a council hearing that he wants “all assets, personnel and funding” from the D.C. Public Schools office of facilities management to be transferred to his office. He said he had to battle several contracting and procurement issues while managing school repairs over the summer.
He blamed the school system’s contracting office, led by Kevin Green, for a problem that threatened to keep contractors from getting paid for repair work. He said the issue was resolved after D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty intervened.
Mr. Lew oversaw a “blitz” of repairs this summer of half the city’s 141 schools. He said he often had to make calls to the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, the Department of Transportation and other agencies to clear bottlenecks or expedite payments to contractors.
“It shouldn’t take that kind of intervention,” Mr. Lew said. “Many [local, small and disadvantaged businesses] are afraid to bid for jobs because they can’t get paid promptly.”
Council members asked how giving Mr. Lew responsibility for maintenance would resolve the problems and requested a transition plan detailing the proposed changes.
Mr. Lew said he would need a few weeks to develop the plan, which he said the mayor would have to approve.
Deputy Mayor for Education Victor Reinoso said giving Mr. Lew control would protect the investment of school repairs.
“These schools have been neglected for decades,” Mr. Reinoso said. “We have to make sure that these schools are being taken care of.”
Lew spokesman Tony Robinson said repairs could be completed more efficiently if the director “does not have to wait on a procurement and contracting process he doesn’t control.”
Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, a Democrat, said he did not want Mr. Lew’s mission of modernization to be sidetracked by day-to-day repairs.
“We’re concerned with capacity,” Mr. Gray said. “We don’t want him to get stuck down in the weeds.”
Council member Mary Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, said she thought Mr. Lew’s plan was “absolutely the right way to go” but wanted more details.
Superintendent Clifford B. Janey began the repair blitz in February. It initially was managed by the office of facilities management, which is responsible for maintenance.
Mr. Lew was hired in June to head the office that is primarily responsible for school modernization. Mr. Fenty gave him authority to complete the blitz and “targeted” repairs of schools that were not scheduled to receive them for several years.
Mr. Lew and Mr. Reinoso said they want to revise the facilities master plan, developed under Mr. Janey, to ensure public approval. Mr. Lew said it would take about a year to complete a new plan and that he would include public input.
Mr. Gray said that he thought Mr. Janey’s plan was “pretty well-vetted” by the public, but asked Mr. Lew for a schedule for re-evaluating the facilities master plan.
“We have to be able to tell people what’s going to happen,” Mr. Gray said. “People are going to begin to fill their heads up with their own assumptions and conclusions.”
Mr. Gray said some residents were concerned that Cardozo Senior High School in Northwest might be closing because its new athletic field had not been installed.
Mr. Janey’s facilities plan called for repair and modernization of schools over a 10-year period. When Mr. Fenty gained control of the school system in June, he asked that basic repairs be expedited and finished by September.
Mr. Lew told the mayor and council that the expectation was unrealistic and has since been clearing a backlog of work orders and reconfiguring the system for requesting repairs.