I read with supreme interest yesterday’s Washington Post story by Perry Stein about the decision by DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee to close Washington Metropolitan Opportunity Academy, a poor performing alternative public school serving 150 middle and high school students near Howard University. It is the first school closed by the system since 2013. My immediate question was whether the building would be turned over to a charter. My answer came in the last paragraph of the reporter’s article:
“A spokesman for Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn said the District does not yet know what it will do with the building. He said keeping it in the school system’s inventory is one option.”
This response is totally unacceptable. Friends of Choice in Urban Schools and others have estimated that there is currently over a million square feet of excess building space that the traditional school system is holding that should be available to charters. Other D.C. Mayors have turned scores of excess buildings over to the sector that educates 43,556 students or 46 percent of all public school pupils in the District. Mayor Muriel Bowser is talking about providing one in her five years in office, as long as the winner of the request for proposal agrees to renovate a community center on the site that includes the complete refurbishing of a swimming pool. A final decision on who gets this land has yet to be made.
Enough is enough. If this Mayor and Deputy Mayor for Education cannot objectively assess whether it needs to maintain classroom structures in its inventory then we need an independent agency to manage the properties.
Charters are desperate for buildings in which to operate. For those of you who are not familiar with the exciting charter movement in the nation’s capital you really need to visit one of these locations. These are public schools that resemble private schools in setting high expectations for both students and staff. They are on a life or death mission to close the academic achievement gap because they are held accountable to meet stellar standards set by themselves and the DC Public Charter School Board. They have to operate in this manner because they are institutions of choice in which perceived weaknesses by parents will drive them to take their children somewhere else along with their scholarship money.
The Mayor is over DCPS but not charters. Therefore, I can see in a twisted, distorted way why she would want to keep the school buildings she has control over. But for someone who represents all citizens of our great city this really does not make any sense. There are an estimated almost 20,000 children on wait lists trying to obtain admission to a charter school.
If Ms. Bowser cannot make the right decision because of politics, personal bias, or poor judgment, then we desperately need an independent, nonpartisan, government body that is empowered to do the right thing. New charters are ready to open their doors and others are dying to expand. The moment to act is now.