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A year ago, my redoubtable predecessor chronicled the hurdles charter schools face when they try to move into vacant D.C. Public Schools buildings. The administration of ex-Mayor Adrian Fenty closed 23 DCPS schools, but managed to get around rules giving charters top priority on the buildings, and at least 18 were handed over to city agencies or developers, leaving charters scrambling to build or lease other spaces.
Now the Vince Gray administration is going through its own round of school closures, with 15 slated to be shuttered. That ought to mean 15 good options for charters looking for space—-if the process runs like it’s supposed to this time around.
Well, today the offices of the mayor and the deputy mayor for education announced a change that ought to make it ever so slightly easier for charters to find new homes, a Web portal that will serve “as a centralized place for interested parties to find information and express interest in the use of vacant school buildings,” according to a press release. The announcement was accompanied by a list of 16 former DCPS schools that will be made available to charters and other community organizations.
So what’s actually different this time around? Not the policy: As before, charters are supposed to have top priority, but there’s little reason to think that policy will be better enforced now than it’s been in the past. Instead, it’s mostly a matter of transparency and ease of information for charters seeking spaces.
“The difference is that we’re putting it all together in one place, we’re doing it earlier than we typically do, and we’re trying to be as transparent as possible,” says a D.C. government official who’s not authorized to speak on the record.
The official says that while after the previous round of closures, some DCPS buildings weren’t made available for charters and instead went to D.C. agencies, “we do not have that same situation this time,” but declined to elaborate on exactly why.
Twelve of the 16 schools will be made available for long-term leases of 25 years or more. The remaining four—-Gibbs, Kenilworth, Mamie D. Lee, and Marshall—-are available only for short-term use, “in order to preserve space that, in the long term, will allow DCPS to accommodate growth and anticipated programmatic opportunities,” according to the press release.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery