Monday, December 19, 2005

A nonprofit group that has tutored poor D.C. students for more than 15 years has been kicked out of its only school site because the school’s new principal says no paperwork has been filed to allow the group to use the facility.

Project Northstar, a D.C. tutoring program founded in 1989, has used the cafeteria of Lemon G. Hine Junior High School at Seventh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast for one of its weekly tutoring classes since 1994.

But Willie Jackson, who became Hine’s principal late last month, asked Northstar to leave Dec. 5, saying the program did not file a yearly building-use agreement, as required by the public school system.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” said Sylvia Davis, 52, whose three foster children attend the weekly program. “Why would a school want to shut down a program that’s helping children? It’s really hard to find tutoring, and if I had to pay for it, I wouldn’t be able to afford it. There’s a lot of children in this community that need help.”

A building-use agreement between the school system and Northstar has been renewed yearly since the program began using the facility, program officials said.

“Every year we have to renew our lease, and every year we do,” said Brian Carome, Project Northstar’s executive director. “We submitted the most-recent request in June 2005, and we were told that we had been approved.”

Mr. Jackson said Northstar’s use agreement was lost or never was filed.

When Northstar refiled paperwork per his request last week, Mr. Jackson rejected the new deal.

“There’s a lack-of-agreement issue,” he said. “I can’t go into this environment and try to participate when the rules aren’t followed.”

Mr. Jackson refused to say why he rejected the agreement.

“I cannot say at this time,” he said.

Mr. Carome has provided The Washington Times with a copy of the building-use agreement he submitted in June and of previous agreements that had been approved. Unlike earlier agreements, the June submission was not signed by a school administrator.

However, Patricia Tucker, assistant superintendent of schools, said Northstar had never submitted an agreement in the 11 years it has operated at the junior high school.

“Project Northstar … has not currently or in the past submitted a building use agreement. This is legally required by all organizations and community groups,” Miss Tucker said in a written statement. “The circumstances that led to the illegal use of the facility by Project Northstar are currently under rigorous investigation and will be addressed in a forthright manner.”

In a letter Friday to Peter Parham, chief of staff for the superintendent, Project Northstar President Robert D. Evans disputes Miss Tucker’s statement, calling it “false” and “derogatory.”

Mr. Evans notes that the program is scheduled to restart next month and asks that the issue be resolved by Thursday.

“As you note in your e-mail, given the long history of service by Project Northstar to the children of our city, this should not be difficult,” he told Mr. Parham.

Officials for D.C. Public Schools Superintendent Clifford B. Janey did not return calls for comment.

Project Northstar was founded in 1989 by members of the D.C. Chapters of the Coalition of 100 Black Women and Concerned Black Men and lawyers from three local law firms.

It serves about 200 poverty-level students once a week at six D.C. sites. The program is funded by grants from local foundations and private and corporate donations.

During the 2004-05 school year, a reading assessment of 165 Northstar students found that 67 percent improved by at least one level and 41 percent improved by at least two levels.

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