I will start with an apology. I’m sorry, but I just had to write the headline twice because the news is so stunning. After being in office for almost five years, D.C. Mayor Bowser has finally released a surplus DCPS building for use by a charter school. Last Friday, a request for proposal was sent out for the Ferebee-Hope Elementary School in Southeast. The RFP comes as the DC Association of Chartered Public Schools initiated a public relations campaign entitled End The List, which includes a high quality produced video and radio advertisements with the expressed purpose of pressuring Ms. Bowser to release the over 1 million square feet of excess or under-utilized DCPS classroom space so that the almost 12,000 students on the charter school wait list can gain access to the school of their choice.
The theme of the End The List campaign should be easily recognizable by readers. Time and time again I have argued that Ms. Bowser is flagrantly disobeying the law by failing to provide a first offer to charter schools for vacant traditional school buildings. She even added insult to injury when in 2018 she turned five shuttered facilities over to developers instead of for use by our children so that that they could further their public education.
The most striking fact for me in the video is that this Mayor has much catch up homework to do if she strives to match her predecessors’ record in support of a educational marketplace. It points out that Anthony Williams turned 13 vacant DCPS sites over to charters. Mayor Fenty did the same with 12 facilities and Mayor Gray answered with 14 of his own for a total of 39. Did I mention that for Ms. Bowser this is the first?
Word on the street is that DC Prep PCS, Friendship PCS, and KIPP PCS will bid on the proposal. Odds are that the liberation of this property was intended to provide a location for KIPP’s second high school.
What a prize this campus would be. The site includes 447,780 square feet. The school building itself takes quite a dent out of the remaining extra DCPS footprint in that the school building has 193,000 square feet. The project would also involve renovating a recreation center at this location that includes an indoor pool, an athletic field, basketball courts, a pavilion, and a playground. I already know of one charter that will forgo competing for this land due to the tremendous costs associated with this endeavor. The idea that the city would turn over all of these structures so that a nonprofit can expend desperately needed funds to fix them up and then pay rent to occupy them has to be the sequel to the book Catch 22.
The RFP adds the following information about the school:
“Ferebee-Hope was constructed in 1974 and first opened its doors to students as Washington Highlands Elementary. In 1990, it was renamed Ferebee-Hope Elementary to honor Dorothy Boulding Ferebee, a physician, humanitarian and community leader, and Marion Conover Hope, a community activist, youth advocate, lawyer, author, and internationally recognized social worker. Ferebee-Hope closed in 2013, though portions of the building have recently been used as swing and temporary space by DCPS. The main educational space received a “Phase 1” modernization in 2009, in which essential building systems were upgraded and replaced. The Ferebee-Hope Recreation Center is an active DPR recreation center. Current programming offerings include swimming lessons, boxing, and fitness classes. The baseball field is also utilized for Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy. There is a community garden onsite as well as a playground.”
Responses to the RFP are due by 5:00 p.m November 5, 2019. I’m feeling optimistic today so I’m assuming the flood gates are now going to open to many more empty, rotting away structures being transferred to charters.