DCPS Stakeholder Phone Call: Thursday September 29, 3:30 pm

About the time that school lets out tomorrow Thursday, September 29, at 3:30 pm, deputy mayor for education (DME) Jennifer Niles will hold her third stakeholder phone call concerning the DCPS chancellor selection process.

You can register for the phone call here. There will be time for (some) questions after the DME gives an update on progress and next steps on selecting and hiring a new chancellor for DCPS.

More information is available at dcpsrising.dc.gov

Lead in Water and Modernizations: Discuss

On Thursday, October 6, starting at 11:30 am, expect a perfect storm of testimony at the Wilson Building. That is when the city council convenes a hearing on two, seemingly unrelated, items: summer modernization work in DCPS and new legislation for lead testing.

(For more information and to sign up to testify, see here.)

The hearing is being convened by two council committees: education and transportation and the environment, chaired by David Grosso and Mary Cheh, respectively.

Those same committees have overseen testing for lead in water in schools, which has tended to diffuse responsibility for causes and solutions.

For instance, one important factor for the presence of lead in water is where/how it gets into water and dispersed. After revelations in the spring of high lead levels in many DC public schools, we know now that high lead levels occur in unmodernized schools as well as new and renovated ones.

In brand-new school buildings like Walker Jones, for instance, high lead levels might come from new fixtures leaching lead–which would indicate a fixture sourcing issue for contractors and the city agency (DGS) in charge of public school buildings.

In older buildings untouched by modernization, the presence of lead in water could be from fixtures or from pipes in, and/or leading to, the building. In 2004, high lead levels in DC’s water resulted when chemicals added to the water for purification increased leaching of the toxic metal from old lead service lines, which are found in areas of the city with older houses. Replacement of those service lines continues today; the water authority recently published a map of service lines and their composition for residents’ reference.

The bill under discussion at this hearing, B21-831, would amend the Healthy Schools Act to ensure that DGS regularly tests and put filters on drinking sources in all DC public schools, both charter and DCPS. DGS had previously only done so for DCPS schools.

This change is very welcome indeed. In the wake of high lead levels found in DCPS schools by DGS, the DC public charter school board asked charter schools to get their water tested or provide documentation of the testing. This resulted in a panoply of testing protocols across all charter schools by a panoply of testing companies—and, not surprisingly, given that not all devices were tested at all schools, relatively few problems identified.

(This led Jeff Canady, a public witness during the council’s June 22 lead in water hearing, to ask if the charter board could share how it so admirably solved the issue of lead in water.)

In addition to the new legislation appearing to guarantee consistent testing, standard protocols, and regular remediation regimes, it seems that DGS will pick up the tab for all of it.

Or will it?

Clarity on this issue is of prime importance: Sometime in the spring or early summer, the charter board asked for reimbursement of the $100,000 it paid for testing in charter schools. The reimbursement was granted out of funds provided through the Healthy Schools Act–even though the funds were intended for school meals and gardens and the act itself does not (yet) specify any lead testing in charter schools.

(There is more than a little irony in the fact that the charter board wanted $100,000: Starting this April, the head of the charter board, Scott Pearson, donated nearly $100,000 of his own money to politicians around the country, including $50,000 in May to Hillary Clinton. He has also donated thousands to DC politicians running for election this year.)

This hearing on October 6 embodies just such an intersection of politics, schools, and money:

That is, half the politicians charged with oversight of lead in water testing for this hearing did not even show up at the last hearing on lead in water, in June. (Yes, I am speaking about Ward 2’s Jack Evans, Ward 7’s Yvette Alexander, at large member Anita Bonds, and Ward 4’s Brandon Todd.)

If lead in school water, and kids drinking it, isn’t enough to get politicians to show up at hearings sponsored by committees they are members of, is it any surprise that DCPS modernizations run along those same political fault lines?

At last week’s community meeting on the renovation of Watkins Elementary, for instance, lead in water was raised as an issue in the swing space that Watkins students are in for this school year. That swing space is in Eliot-Hine Middle School, still unrenovated, but where a blitz of summer work enabled its use for Watkins.

Test results from May and August on a number of water devices at Eliot-Hine were handed out to people at that Watkins meeting. Some of us had never seen those results before—but were told they were on line.

A number of devices in May at Eliot-Hine had levels above the new action level of 1 part per billion. One of the water devices was given placard at that time, saying “Not For Drinking,” due to recurring high levels of lead.

The results from August omitted most of the water devices that had the highest levels in May, as they were not “traditional drinking sources.”

But the implications for both schools and their renovations are huge:

–How was the device that was given a placard in May saying “Not For Drinking” retested in August and found to have levels below the new threshold of less than 1 part per billion of lead?

–Are the test results we were handed only for devices in the space of Eliot-Hine that Watkins is using? Or for the entirety of Eliot-Hine? The results on-line for Eliot-Hine, for instance, are identical to those handed out at the meeting.

–Can elementary school students read a sign that says “Not For Drinking” and understand what it means?

–Will the renovated Watkins—with all new pipes, walls, floors, and fixtures—have lead in its water like the old one did?

–Will Eliot-Hine get a renovation that does not just involve summer work to make it usable as a swing space?

and, most sadly,

–Why do we have any water fixtures dispensing undrinkable water in the capital of the richest nation on earth?

For sure, there is a lot riding on this new legislation in addition to those questions:

At that same community meeting for Watkins, Ward 6 state board of education rep. Joe Weedon took issue with what Josh Tuch, DCPS’s facility rep., noted about remediation filters lasting about a year. Weedon noted that the efficacy of filters in removing lead from water is determined not by time, but by flow, which means that an annual filter change may be more than enough for a device—or not enough at all.

Expect even more issues raised at the hearing, which is a necessary first step to ensure that testing for lead in water in all our public schools is not merely thorough, but consistent, informed, and adequately (and transparently!) funded.

Candidate Education Forum: September 28

This coming Wednesday, September 28, at 6:30 pm, at the Columbia Heights Education campus (3101 16th St. NW), DC Education Coalition for Change will hold a debate and (brief) question and answer forum for a variety of state board of education and council at large candidates. Scheduled participants include council education committee chair and at large candidate David Grosso; Robert White, newly appointed to the council as another at large candidate; Jack Jacobson, Ward 2 member and president of the state board; and state board members running for re-election Tierra Jolly (Ward 8) and Karen Williams (Ward 7).

Candidates have already received questions from DC Education Coalition for Change, which will provide their written answers on the day of this event.

Ellington and the Disappeared Western High School

[The following is by Peter MacPherson, DC schools activist; see his original on Ellington here.]

There are few who will dispute that the new Duke Ellington School of the Arts building being constructed on the periphery of Georgetown is going to be a stunning piece of architecture. The District of Columbia Public Schools will have beautiful citadel in one of the city’s wealthiest communities, albeit one not known for its enthusiastic embrace of public education.

In many ways, though, Ellington will be an irredeemably flawed building. Once completed, it will be the most expensive public school ever constructed in the nation’s capital. Its cost is likely to exceed $210 million.

The District government’s choice to spend so lavishly on a facility that will serve 550 students has meant that other schools in far more disadvantaged parts of the city have had their modernizations deferred, with some likely to wait a decade before they get the attention they so desperately need.

The construction of the Ellington building has required the virtual atomization of the structure that was there before it. A significant piece of municipal history, both architectural and civic, has disappeared.

Strictly speaking, the Ellington structure is not a completely new building. Using extremely generous definitions, Ellington is a building undergoing modernization, one the program has occupied since 1974.

But the structure this program occupies was built in 1898 at a cost of $138,084.36–about $3.9 million today. For its first 79 years, the building was called Western High School, with its largest enrollment 2,000 students. During much of its history, Western was one of the country’s finest college preparatory public high schools. The Home and School Association founded to support the school was the first established in the District of Columbia.

The school had very storied alumni, including Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, artist Thomas Hart Benton, U.S. Senator Robert M. La Follette, Jr., and one of the original Mercury astronauts, Edward H. White, Jr. Mildred Fish Harnack, a member of the German Anti-Nazi resistance movement The Red Orchestra, was a 1917 graduate of the school.

(Adolph Hitler had Harnack and her husband executed by guillotine as punishment for her activities.)

In World War I, 20 Western alumni died. During World War II, 142 perished, almost 30% of the 500 alumni serving.

In the early 1970s, as enrollment declined, closure became a real possibility. In 1974 the Duke Ellington School of Arts began sharing the building. With its graduating class of 1977, Western High School ceased to exist. Until 2014, when students were migrated to swing-space for the construction period, the Ellington program never left.

The Western High School of the 1970s was a handsome, but fraying, Greek classical revival high school building with longstanding and unmet facility needs. After it ceased being a comprehensive high school, the Ellington program attempted to retrofit the building on a piecemeal basis to meet the needs of an arts training program. The noted Washington architecture firm Arthur Cotton Moore/Associates renovated the auditorium and main floor vestibule.

But Peggy Cooper Cafritz, one of Ellington’s founders and now a doyenne of the Washington arts community, had long wanted a new building for the program. Before this modernization began, the old building was far from being an ideal venue for an arts-oriented school, and Cafritz was intensely skeptical that it could ever be adequately retrofitted. It lacked modern, acoustically isolated practice rooms. Students were using stairwells and corridors for practice spaces. Those studying the visual arts frequently used hallways not only as workspace but also to exhibit their work.

In a March 11, 2014 letter to an official with the consortium managing the District’s school modernization program, Cafritz, fellow board member Charles Barber, and then-principal Rory Pullens wrote that “the current facility was never intended to serve as a school for the arts, and its configuration has inherent problems in accommodating the multi-faceted programs included in the Ellington curriculum. While a comprehensive renovation could improve the current situation, the need to retain the basic historic structure will always limit the extent to which this facility can be made to serve the interests of the school.”

Concurrent with efforts to get a new building, community members in wards 2 and 3 sought to have Western High reopen as a comprehensive high school. This desire grew out of the burgeoning student population at Woodrow Wilson High School, which was built in response to overcrowding at Western in the 1930s. In 2010, then DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee had estimates done for converting Logan elementary on Capitol Hill into Ellington’s new home, leaving the old high school available to reopen as a comprehensive one. Using Logan for this purpose was estimated to cost $86.7 million.

Others, such as Mary Filardo, executive director of the 21st Century School Fund, advocated building in the resurgent U Street corridor and suggested using Shaw Middle School, a long-shuttered building on a four-acre site on Rhode Island Avenue. She praised the site as far more accessible than Ellington’s current Georgetown location and with much greater access to urban amenities.

Neither site was chosen.

Logan is now used to house a Montessori program, and Shaw remains mothballed with no definitive plans for its use or demolition.

What Cafritz wanted was a new building constructed on the site of the Western/Ellington playfields two blocks from Western. The administration of former mayor Vincent Gray estimated the cost of building on Cafritz’s preferred site to be $105.7 million. Maryland architect Linda J. Clark wrote in her 2012 masters thesis that “the [Ellington] school has a strong identity that is not aligned with the identity of the building.”

Though Georgetown had long cooled to the presence of any public high school in its midst, with demands for parking and the youthful generation of noise, the community wished to retain the playfields, as it has a dearth of public green spaces. But keeping the fields derailed their use for Ellington.

For the last 13 years, the Ellington building has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Because of this and its location in Georgetown, many believed that the building simply could not be modified enough to get the facility the arts program wanted. In 2014, after a design competition, the Gray administration settled on renovating the existing structure. On March 12, 2013, Gray confirmed in an email to Ward 2 council member Jack Evans that he and DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson had decided on renovating the existing building: “We are working through some issues involving historic preservation requirements. But we are hopeful these matters can be resolved in order to remain at the current site.”

The National Register of Historic Places was created by federal legislation in 1966. The District of Columbia has 579 sites on the list, including Ellington. Being on the list provides no official protection, although it often puts a brake on the demolition or substantial alteration of the building in question by having it identified as a national historic resource. Since the creation of the register, local officials are generally more reticent about permitting the wholesale destruction of a listed property or its substantial dismemberment.

But in the case of Ellington, its listing on the National Register has had very little impact. What is being done is the construction of an almost entirely new building benefiting from the presence of a large number of recycled bricks.

Of it, Sigal Construction Corporation, a contractor on the project, said, “The historic original front bar and portico will be preserved and re-established as the main entrance for the school. The interior of the building will revolve around a 4 story atrium with a new 850 seat theater suspended in the middle as the heart of the school. The modernization includes large studios and rehearsal spaces in addition to typical high school facilities such as classrooms and labs. The exterior will feature an outdoor amphitheater on the front lawn. The project is targeting LEED Gold certification with green initiatives including but not limited to geothermal wells, green roofs, and rainwater cisterning/graywater usage.”

The company noted that in constructing the new Ellington, the building would soar from 176,000 square feet to 294,900 square feet. By comparison, Woodrow Wilson High School is designed for 1,550 students and is 376,507 square feet. That space accommodates 1,000 more students than are planned for Ellington.

The interior of the building has been gutted, with a third of the structure having been demolished outright. The need for underground parking necessitated the complete destruction of a large portion of the old building. I have visited the site every two weeks since the project began in December 2014 and can attest to the fact that there is not a single door handle or piece of molding left from the original building. So much has been removed, in fact, that large quantities of structural steel have had to be added to keep what’s left from collapsing.

Indeed, the only feature of the old Western High that remains largely intact is its Greek Revival façade–the one that thousands of students passed through for 79 years on their pedagogic journeys:

dsc_0082
[Ellington facade. Copyright Peter MacPherson]

A project like this requires approval from such agencies as the federal Commission on Fine Arts and the District’s Historic Preservation Review Board. Despite the actual destruction of the majority of the historic building for this renovation, both groups have given the Ellington project their imprimatur.

The city has also been given a hearty prophylaxis from criticism by the extraordinary design that Georgetown architect Christoffer Graee and his firm Cox, Graee and Spack have created. The building represents world-class architecture, with an equally extraordinary price. DCPS and Department of General Services (DGS), the city agency responsible for school construction, asked for $81.5 million for the project in the FY14 capital improvement plan. An additional $57.8 million was added in FY15 because the cost of underground parking had not been included in the initial estimate—even though in spring 2014, DGS knew that the revised $139.9 million estimate was not accurate and that an additional $7.6 million was needed.

dsc_0056
[New structure at Ellington. Copyright Peter MacPherson]

Many factors have resulted in an upward trajectory for cost, including a lack of finished building specifications as budgets were being formulated and a non-competitive contractor-selection process. A final cost of $210 million would put Ellington $50 million above the most expensive project yet completed for DCPS (the $160 million spent on Ballou High School).

At the end of May, DC auditor Kathy Patterson released a report on Ellington that attempted to parse the project’s cost. It described a process that has been extremely opaque: Accurate cost estimates were not provided to the city council—even though DGS often had more information than was provided–so the council never voted on a capital budget that reflected the true costs of the building.

But both DCPS and DGS themselves do not seem to know the true cost of the building. When demolition began, the project’s design/build firm did not have complete building specifications. The builders have cited elaborate construction techniques for the building of such components as the underground garage. The auditor noted, though, that even when accounting for unexpected costs, the garage is still significantly higher in cost than peer projects.

On numerous occasions, the council had to vote to approve more funding for the Ellington project, and each subsequent vote represented a continuing escalation in costs. The council allowed this even as the effect of this expenditure on other school modernizations became clear. Projects such as the modernizations of Eliot-Hine and Jefferson middle schools have been delayed for several years because of a lack of available funding. Garfield Elementary in Ward 8, the first public school in the District designed by an African-American architect, will likely not see any modernization for as much as a decade. Projects such as Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan and School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens have been delayed indefinitely. Many current projects, like the modernization of Watkins Elementary, are being denied needed elements. In the case of Watkins, the renovated building will not receive the full-size gymnasium for which the community has been clamoring, all due to budget constraints.

It’s now unclear when schools that have received only limited modernization will get the additional work they need. David Grosso, chairman of the council’s education committee, has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Ellington project and willingly embraced its rising costs. And the council has consistently voted to fund those costs.

So how much should Ellington cost? Finding a true apples-to-apples comparison is difficult, but the following examples are still useful. The new Trump Hotel occupying the old Post Office Pavilion is 357,000 square feet and cost $214 million. That’s close to the expected cost of the Ellington building. None of the comprehensive high schools that have been modernized or rebuilt during the period of mayoral control of the schools has cost anything close to what Ellington is consuming in municipal treasure. And, as Patterson noted in her auditor’s report, all of these school projects have gone over budget. The comprehensive high school projects in many instances have cost more than peer projects in surrounding jurisdictions: The new Ballou High School cost significantly more than Wakefield High School in Arlington, even though both were designed by the same architectural firm, for comparable numbers of students, and constructed in similar ways.

Charles J. Colgan is a new public high school in Prince William County, Virginia. Opened in August, the structure was built for 2,200 students and has an arts focus. Students can study in one of several arts concentration areas, including dance, instrumental music, vocal music, music technology, theater, creative writing and visual arts. To support theater and music, the building has an elaborate and expensive performing arts center with an orchestra pit and a black box theatre. The heavily wooded site at which the school was built had to be cleared before construction could begin.

Yet that newly completed building cost $110 million.

What the District of Columbia is getting in Ellington is a beautiful but extraordinarily expensive building. Its construction has meant sacrifice for some of the city’s poorest students who attend schools whose modernization has been significantly delayed because of Ellington’s cost. It has even given charter advocates fodder to complain of unfair treatment in their facilities needs, even as they pursue a lawsuit against the city for schools that have not existed as long as DCPS schools have waited to get modernized.

Worst of all, given the choices made in how Ellington would accommodate the needs of its arts program, the history of Western High School as represented by that old and now mostly disappeared building has been obliterated. The Western High moniker has not hung on the building for 40 years and, unless special steps are taken, will remain absent once Ellington reopens next year.

In pursuing one extraordinary piece of architecture, the District government has done an enormous disservice to thousands of residents, many of them children, all the while not honoring the goals of historic preservation. Producing great art may be regarded as ennobling—but here it clearly has a price.

Determining Residency for Schools

A few weeks ago, the office of the state superintendent of education (OSSE) sent out notice of proposed amendments to rules for residency verification. The comment period ends October 24; comments can be sent in via email (information at the link above) or snail mail (ditto).

The purpose of the rule making, according to a memo from OSSE head Hanseul Kang, is “to provide local education agencies (LEAs), parents and stakeholders with additional context to understand OSSE’s current practices for residency verification and investigation, and the new regulations and practices OSSE proposes to put into place to further prevent residency fraud while reducing burden and lift barriers for LEAs and families.”

Right now, anyone who has a child and does not live in DC must pay tuition to send his or her child to a DC public school. The principle is that it’s not sustainable or fair to have seats in public schools go to children who live outside the district.

At one point, however, the explanatory memo gets downright funny:

“OSSE’s residency fraud prevention program has a rigorous process for investigating tips of non-residency. Once a tip is received, OSSE requests residency verification and enrollment forms from the charter LEA for internal review.” [boldface mine]

(Maybe someone should tell OSSE that residency fraud happens in DCPS?)

Anyhoo, yesterday, about the time that a “stakeholder engagement session” was held in the middle of the day at OSSE’s offices (for 1 hour), I and another DCPS parent, Caryn Ernst, sent in our thoughts.

I have put Caryn’s comment below, as it gets to what seem to be the critical issues involved (even if OSSE may have a notion that this is all about charter schools):

“I’m writing to comment on the proposed residency verification rules.  While I was glad to see that District tax records will be allowed as a proof of residency, which in theory would enable OSSE to link families records with the city’s tax database, I was distressed to see that there won’t be a proactive verification of residency by OSSE. As I read these rules, verification will still be the job of individual LEAs, and I’m assuming individual schools within DCPS.

“The recent data on student mobility, which shows the vast majority of mid-year moves being in and out of state, confirms what many of us in communities near the DC/Maryland border have long known: there’s a significant percent of students enrolled in public schools in DC from neighboring states. Leaving it up to individual schools and LEAs to “self-police” is absurd given the huge burden residency fraud places on the public school system and tax-paying residents in DC, and the tremendous incentives for schools to “look the other way.”

“Obviously if school budgets are based on enrollment, there’s a significant incentive for schools and LEAs to allow residency fraud if it will help them reach enrollment targets and increase their budgets. I will also say from experience that when school communities try to police themselves if can lead to significant tensions and conflict and undermine school climate. In addition, allowing parents/guardians to submit the same materials they have used in previous years, instead of verifiable tax records, means that these new rules won’t be any more effective than the old rules.

“I can’t see any rationale for why OSSE wouldn’t use the data readily available to it to verify residency and ensure families AND schools aren’t defrauding the public school system. A centralized system of residency verification would enable families to submit documentation either at the school or online and would enable OSSE to prevent residency fraud in a consistent and reliable way.”

Happy commenting–and while you’re at it, send a note to your state board of education members, who are eager to hear public comments on this rule making.

School Nurses: Going Extinct in DC?

[updated: see 9/23/16 update below]

The school nurse situation as we DC residents have known (and loved/hated) it will be no longer come January 2017, barring changes by the mayor and/or council.

Specifically: January is when the current contract for school nurses will expire. A new plan will provide what is effectively 1/2 nurse per public school, both charter and DCPS. The previous model had a required minimum of one full-time nurse in every school.

The DC Department of Health (DOH), which oversees all nurses in all public schools in DC, has indicated it wants a less clinically oriented model for school nurses, with schools staffed according to need (as determined by DOH) and a broader look at community health. The proposed new system will be funded by grants–and remains unexplained to, and unseen by, the general public (and, according to my council member’s office, unseen by the council as well).

For a city filled with low-income children with persistent and urgent medical issues like asthma, ensuring a whole community health system in public schools seems reasonable enough–except that absent some increase in funding, it will mean, effectively, that relatively few schools will retain the nursing coverage they already have.

As it is, it’s not like we’re doing well in the full-time school nurse category: every year recently, several public schools in each ward and in each sector (charter and DCPS) have been the unlucky recipients of nurse rationing, such that they lacked a full-time nurse (or, in some cases, had no nurse at all).

In this new plan (as is currently the case at those schools lacking a full-time nurse), regular school staff who have received four days of special training will step in to cover any medical situations that arise in the absence of a nurse on site.

All of this raises the question of why this community health model, as opposed to actually fully funding the existing school nurse contract, is being done: to ensure better care, or to ration and stretch the care we already have while not spending more money?

There appear to be no ready answers.

Last week, DCPS’s Heidi Schumacher, who oversees that system’s student wellness programs, presented the Ward 4 education alliance a first look at this new system of school nurses in DCPS. A summary of that meeting shows that parents had many concerns with lack of transparency in this process and the fact that what appears to be a different outlook in nursing coverage will effectively mean a loss of resources for most schools.

[updated 9/23/16] According to Cathy Reilly (one of the leaders of the Ward 4 education alliance), Dr. Schumacher had [on 9/22/16] noted that “parent letters on the new program are in the works, and we are working with our agency partners to finalize details on [future] community engagement meetings. Letters and meeting details will be translated and shared with families as soon as available.” Schumacher also noted [on 9/22] that the Ward 4 Ed Alliance queries [detailed above] were shared with DOH staff, and that the agency is “working to finalize a one-pager on school-based health centers including information on vendors, scope of services, etc. that we will share with school leaders to distribute to families.”

In the wake of that fateful Ward 4 Ed Alliance meeting, Ward 4 parent Joshua Hertzberg wrote a letter to DC public officials demanding a better plan for nurse staffing, noting that in a city filled with low-income children, a medical emergency at school is not at all easy for low-income parents to cover in the absence of quick and expert medical coverage at the school itself–not to mention that there appears to be no commensurate additional funding (or even time!) to cover the additional duties regular staff will now be expected to perform.

In addition, the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) has asked for a hold to the entire process of changing the school nurse contract, since there has been very little public knowledge of the new rationale (and rationing), much less public input into its creation. A quick question to the school nurse at my daughter’s school earlier this week, for instance, made it clear that the nurse had no idea what is going down in January.

As it is, for the last month, I have tried–and failed–to get from DOH a list of charter and DCPS schools that currently lack a full-time nurse. (My request is apparently as popular as the flu.)

Happily, the head of the WTU, Elizabeth Davis, has asked parents, teachers, and staff to let her know what the current nurse staffing of their public schools is. Davis has released the WTU nurse survey results in DCPS. (To contact her to report your school’s nurse situation, call 202-957-3119 or 202-517-0727.)

In the meantime, it’s not clear what, if anything, the charter board is doing for advocacy on this issue, although Scott Pearson, the head of the charter board, testified before the council this spring that the city would no longer have school nurses come 2017.

While I have wished that some public official somewhere would have explained before now that (otherwise completely unexplained) statement, the school nurse situation in DC has grown increasingly embattled over time.

Namely, the creation of more public schools and a lack of an updated (and more fully funded) nurse contract for nearly the past 10 years has made a full-time nurse in each school an increasingly stretched resource.

And as DC goes, so does the nation, apparently:

A few years ago, a child died after suffering an asthma attack in her public school on one of the days her school’s nurse was not on duty. Less than a year later in the same city, another child died at his public school after suffering a medical emergency–again, when there was no school nurse on duty.

Budget cuts were blamed for the lack of school nurses in both cases.

Tuesday September 20: Chancellor Selection Committee Meets–and More

Now, more than halfway through September, racing toward an October deadline for picking the next DCPS chancellor, the chancellor selection committee–the 17-member advisory body that is advising the mayor on the next DCPS chancellor–will have its next public meeting on Tuesday September 20. The meeting will take place at the Main Hall, Trinity Washington University, 125 Michigan Ave NE at 6 pm. More information is here.

The committee will also meet a week later, in the same place, although when is not exactly known: the notice above says Tuesday September 28 (so, it’s either next Tuesday or the 28th). [update 9/23/16: According to page 26 of a summary document for the Sept. 20 meeting, the next meeting of the chancellor selection committee is indeed on September 28, with the following meeting on October 12, both 6-8 pm at Trinity Washington University. Draft recommendations will be formulated at the first, and finalized at the second. In addition, a report on the upshot of the community engagement sessions will be finalized at the September 28 meeting, but you can review progress on that front here.]

Notice of the September 20th meeting of the committee was posted on its website on September 16, so it’s of a piece with all the rushing. This meeting of the committee is to review community feedback from three public forums on the chancellor selection (August 30, September 7, September 14) and to build recommendations for the mayor’s use.

But the committee has clearly met at least one other time. Indeed, a recently posted summary of its meeting on August 4 showed the committee asking Derek Wilkinson, representative of the search firm Boyden Global, basic questions, such as what education searches Boyden has done. (Answer: not many like this.)

One of the questions–“who is the team?”–got a cryptic response: the “team” (whatever it does) is Wilkinson, a “DC staff of 3-4 people, a colleague in the [Boyden] NY/Toronto office, and 1 additional person who is also a DCPS parent.”

(Well, at least the last can be narrowed down to approximately 40,000 people.)

The clear rush for selecting a new chancellor isn’t the only oddity about this process: a few days after that chancellor selection committee meeting, on August 8, schools activist Peter MacPherson submitted a FOIA request for all contracts and agreements between the deputy mayor for education and Boyden, including all correspondence (email, printed documents, etc.) about the Boyden contract for the chancellor search.

MacPherson got a response of sorts on September 13:

Boyden will get 30% of the total compensation for the new chancellor in his or her first year of employment. That would put its contract for this search at $100,000 at least. Nor can its contract exceed $250,000, per the task order that DC’s department of human resources signed with Boyden on July 12, when the search was announced, and sent as a response to MacPherson’s FOIA request.

But a contract?

Well, nothing, unless you count a request for proposals for a search firm for WMATA in 2015–and the agreement that WMATA signed with Boyden afterward. Both were sent in response to MacPherson’s FOIA request about Boyden and the chancellor search.