- The Washington Times - Monday, April 4, 2016

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser pledged more than $1 billion for school modernization in her fiscal 2017 budget proposal, but in the city council’s first public review of the mayor’s $13.5 billion financial blueprint, at least one member on Monday said his ward got shorted in the deal.

“I’m concerned, once again, with the lack of investment in schools” in Ward 5, Kenyan McDuffie, the Democrat who represents the ward, said at Monday’s briefing. “Browne [Education Campus] has seen its budget obliterated … which I think is very concerning.”

Just $2 million of the six-year, $1.3 billion plan to renovate and modernize schools in the District will go to schools in Ward 5.

Mr. McDuffie said that his ward clearly should be getting more, adding the issue to a list of battles he’s picked with Ms. Bowser over issues ranging from crime prevention to the handling of a proposed family homeless shelter site in the ward.

Ms. Bowser shot back, though, saying Mr. McDuffie’s ward, located along the city’s northeastern border with Prince George’s County, has always been a big part of school modernization.

“The District has invested in Ward 5 schools very heavily,” she said. The session was the first time the council has been able to question the mayor formally on her budget proposal since Ms. Bowser released it at the end of March.

According to a March D.C. Public Schools document, Ward 5 contained the second highest number of schools that have been modernized with 77 percent, just behind Ward 3’s 90 percent renovation rate.

Over the last 10 years, the District has spent about $4 billion upgrading and updating schools in the city and Ms. Bowser’s proposed budget sets out another $1.3 billion to be spent by 2022. By that time, according to the plan, 98 of the District’s 112 schools will complete a full modernization.

But that schedule still shuts out some schools, including Browne Education Campus, a pre-K-to-8th grade school in Ward 5 which has been slated for improvements that were supposed to have been done by 2015.

Ms. Bowser and her aides say they are taking a different approach than previous mayors of the District — one that she says reflects the real costs of school modernization. She also said at the Monday hearing that the process had become too politicized under previous administrations.

“In the past, we funded individual schools based on inconsistent criteria. Schools have been treated like chess pieces,” Ms. Bowser said. “This is a more realistic timeline and an actual price tag.”

The city is using a ranking system to show which schools are in the most serious need of renovations. The rankings were created in 2015 by the council’s Education Committee under the direction of Council member David Grosso, an at-large independent. The committee created “an objective tool to rank the order of priority for projects included in the Capital Improvement Plan,” according to committee Director Christina Henderson.

D.C. Public Schools and Ms. Bowser’s office worked to improve that tool this year, Ms. Henderson said, focusing on metrics such as the percentage of schools already modernized in each ward, the number of at-risk students and building utilization.

“The key changes that we made to our approach was not to do small modernizations, half-modernizations or phased modernizations but to move to full modernizations,” Ms. Bowser said last month.

That’s rankled some residents who live near schools that under the new criteria won’t see any money for promised upgrades in the coming years.

Browne Education Campus, which sits in the Langston/Carver neighborhood of Ward 5, has finished the first phase of its scheduled modernization, but there’s no money for further upgrades in Ms. Bowser’s budget.

“I understand we have limited capital funds and you had to make tough decisions in this process. But many of the schools in Ward 5 are really in need of investment,” Mr. McDuffie said.

But Browne won’t be renovated under Ms. Bowser’s budget because it was dead last on a list of schools prioritized for modernization. And those lowest-priority schools, even if they were previously funded for modernization, will take a back seat to needier schools.


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