Guess how many schools are in this one portion of Shaw. At first glance, I count seven.*
In late December, Mayor Adrian Fenty first announced his request for proposals for the redevelopment of several school sites throughout the city.
A lot of people lay claim to these buildings: Neighborhood residents, who want to see them used as community spaces. Preservationists, who want to protect the structures’ architectural design and quirks. Former students, and in some cases historians, who want the schools’ history celebrated.
But the people that do the most squawking—-for sure—-are charter school advocates, as yesterday’s Washington Business Journal shows:
Charter schools are required by law to get the first crack at empty school buildings, so D.C. offered up 14 of its 31 unused schools to charters in September and is in competitive negotiations for three of them. It then offered 11 directly to developers, issuing a request for proposals in December.
But Robert Cane, president of the advocacy group Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, says that isn’t enough. He filed a public documents request and found there were 18 charter school bids for the 11 buildings currently up for grabs. Cane doesn’t see why developers should get a shot at those buildings if charter schools want them.
“Naturally we’re very upset and wonder if the city operated in good faith in offering charter schools first right of offer,”Cane says.
Okay, a law’s a law. But is this one really fair?
After the Washington Post published a piece about the request for proposals, a lot of people questioned why Charter schools get first dibs on school sites. After all, there are plenty of interest groups in the city that could use this valuable land for private or public ventures. Here are a couple of standout comments:
“Why are the charter school entitled? And why are charter schools continuing to be approved for operation? What is the existing research or track record for the charter schools and how many of them generally last longer than 3-5 years? Why should the city allow the charters to take up space in these buildings when many charters are not doing well?”
“With the income from the sale of this one parcel you could fund the total renovation and operating costs of a dozen charter schools throughout the city.”(Okay this line might be slight exaggeration.)
“You can only play the ‘agree with me or you hate the children’ card so many times before people think you are a manipulative loser. The charter school folks may want to keep this in mind.”
*I’ll get back to you later today with a more detailed map and explanation.