- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2008

Sports facilities at D.C. public schools are in “terrible shape” and the city continues to lag behind neighboring jurisdictions in funding an athletic program that has continually “atrophied” over the years, according to a report released yesterday.

“Our students” opportunities to learn and grow at District schools have been substantially compromised as a result,” states the report by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “Now is the time for a major reinvestment in these programs so that our students can better compete on and off the playing field.”

The District has numerous success stories of student athletes coming from its public school system, including NFL players Byron Leftwich and Vernon Davis, who graduated from H.D.Woodson and Dunbar high schools. Five students from Dunbar alone accepted Division I college football scholarships earlier this week.

The report examined aspects of the school system’s athletic program last year and found little progress in funding and improvements since the committee issued its initial report in 2001.

The report shows the school system’s budget for athletics and activities has decreased by more than $1 million since 1993, although the number of teams and athletes has remained steady.

The District, with nearly 50,000 public school students, also allocated a “meager” $104 per student for athletics in the 2006-07 academic year, compared with $431 allocated by the Alexandria public school system and the $205 provided by Montgomery County public schools, according to the report.

The report also states the average head coach at a D.C. public school earns $2,107 less than counterparts in a surrounding school district.

The deficiencies in athletic programs raise the risk that students will drop out of school, engage in illicit activities or endanger their health, the report states. It describes the athletic field at Cardozo High School in Northwest as “a hazard,” says the school’s locker room is prone to flooding and describes the school’s weight room as “useless.”

The report notes that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, took over the school system last summer and approved a $21.5 million project to upgrade football fields at five high schools.

Mr. Fenty’s deputy mayor for education, Victor Reinoso, said the projects — which also include new tracks and lighting in some instances — are “basically complete” and that the administration plans to start similar work at four other schools in the near future.

The Fannie Mae Foundation last year donated about $4 million toward the renovation of the field and facilities at Ballou Senior High School in Southeast.

Mr. Reinoso said school officials will undertake a school improvement initiative this summer similar to the work completed last year. “That would include blitz work associated with the spaces used for athletics,” he said.

Mafara Hobson, a spokeswoman for schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, said the allocation for athletics in next year’s budget is “a work in progress,” but that officials are committed to improving school facilities.

“The administration is wholeheartedly committed to ensuring a swift delivery of modernized athletic facilities and updated equipment,” she said.

The report states that the new education officials provide reasons for “cautious optimism” related to city public schools athletics. Mary Levy, a director with the lawyers committee who worked on the report, said the Fenty administration’s renovation of the five fields is the “first meaningful step” in years that school officials have taken to boost city athletic programs.

“Apart from that,” she said, “things are still pretty much like they were in 1993.”

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