Mayor Muriel Bowser shocked the DC Public Charter School Board and those in the audience by showing up in person Monday evening to address its monthly meeting. She dominated the opening public comment portion of the session, first introducing the Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn, who was sitting in the first row, and then going on to thank Scott Pearson for the excellent job he has done in his role as PCSB executive director. Ms. Bowser commented that “I don’t know what Scott will do next but I know he will be excellent at it.”
The Mayor went on to say that she wished the current board well because they have to select Mr. Pearson’s replacement. Ms. Bowser predicted that they will have a good pool of candidates from which to choose because D.C. public schools are the envy of the nation thanks to the progress this urban school district has made in reading and in math across all subgroups of children. She said that we cannot “let up one bit” on demanding what all of our kids need.
Ms. Bowser then revealed the reason she was present. “I’m here to check on you,” she asserted. She pointed out that the city is now working on its 2020 to 2021 budget. The Mayor boasted that her school budget has gone up in each of the five years that she has been in office.
She spoke on a wide variety of topics such as school safety, student transportation, and making additional resources available for charters for concerns such as teacher salaries.
Ms. Bowser then turned to the board for questions. Chairman Rick Cruz started the conversation by stating that many of the areas that the Mayor raised have been discussed by his board. He then gently brought up the facility issue by thanking the Mayor for awarding Ferebee-Hope Elementary School to KIPP DC PCS and said he hoped that other buildings would be turned over to charters. The announcement that KIPP had won the request for proposal for this school was made earlier in the day. The move marks the first time the Bowser Administration has provided a closed former traditional school to a charter.
Mr. Cruz then quickly pivoted to a discussion regarding filling the executive director vacancy. When other board members were asked for questions, member Ricarda Ganjam inquired bravely as to the school the Mayor would like her daughter to attend. The answer was Shepherd Elementary, the one in Ms. Bowser’s neighborhood. Steve Bumbaugh shyly wanted to know the one or two things the PCSB could do to improve its performance.
The audience was then asked to participate. The sole taker was Appletree Institute for Education Innovation’s president and CEO Jack McCarthy. This is the same Jack McCarthy who had to shutter a campus for at-risk three and four year old’s when the Deputy Mayor for Education failed to find a replacement site for one of Appletree’s campuses when the building was closed as part of a DCPS school renovation. His cause was taken up by the editors of both the Washington Post (twice) and the Wall Street Journal. His question: Could the city work with developers to have them include space for schools in their projects?
This was the extent of the facility discussion. The Mayor failed to bring up the subject despite the fact that she has faced tremendous pressure over the past several months in the form of the DC Association of Public Charter School’s End the List campaign to release an estimated over one million square feet of excess space controlled by DCPS that by law should have been turned over to charters. No one from the board or others in the room challenged her. Not a single person brought up the FOCUS-engineered charter school funding inequity lawsuit.
After a thirty minute performance Ms. Bowser and her entourage proudly strutted out of the room. And strut she should have done. The charter school community was put in their place. The Mayor entered the epicenter of our local movement and emerged without even one verbal scratch.
Now the quandary becomes, if even the DC Public Charter School Board will not defend charters, who will?