Hallowed Hallways Or Halfway House? Law Or Lawless? Fun With School Facilities! (Secret Edition)

At the end of February, the Post ran a story on a light industrial building at 3400 New York Avenue NE being used as a halfway house. Now, this has really nothing to do with our public schools, right? Wrong!

In November 2018, an apparently well-connected group made a deal with Douglas Development, the building’s owner, for the building to be used for former prisoners. But at the end of January, in its Wednesday bulletin, the charter board ran an advertisement for the building to be used as a charter school.

So: halfway house or school? Or halfway house AND school? Who knows?

Ignoring for the moment a private and powerful developer determining whether a DC building has public school students or former prisoners (or maybe both), this situation highlights the deep, anti-public weirdness that pervades DC school facilities.

For instance, in the wake of mistakes in the master facilities plan (MFP), the deputy mayor for education (DME) pulled it down until it’s corrected (see here for what had been posted as the MFP).

Regardless of the mistakes, that version of the MFP is not really a plan—more like a collection of data to be used with a plan. Sadly, whatever actually IS that plan remains completely not public.

The DCPS responses to the council in the wake of the performance oversight hearing exemplify this lack of transparency. In response to a council question about facilities, for instance, DCPS provided this handy chart of all its owned and leased spaces.

This chart is fascinating inasmuch as it leaves off several closed schools that DCPS still owns–all of which are listed here and here in a 2017 accounting of closed school facilities (which is still available on the DME’s website).

Think about it:

It’s now 2019, and no one from DCPS knows what happened to old Randle Highlands? Old Miner? Wilkinson? Even Davis, the site of the new Bard high school (you know, the one that DCPS, our mayor, and DME were thrilled about creating in complete secrecy) is left off of this 2019 list of current and leased DCPS properties! Does DCPS think it doesn’t own any of those properties anymore? Does the DME?

Turns out, someone in DC education leadership is paying attention:

During the council’s performance oversight hearing for the charter board on February 15, at about the 2:41:30 mark in the video (available here), charter board executive director Scott Pearson mentioned to education committee chair David Grosso the fact that some charters in the current lottery (specifically, Lee Montessori’s new campus; Appletree SW; Statesmen; and Digital Pioneers) did not yet have facilities for next school year, so would have waitlists instead of matches in the lottery, having missed the February 8 lottery deadline to be listed as having a facility in My School DC.

Here’s the exchange:

Pearson: “You can imagine the disruption, the stress, the distraction that all this [not having a facility] brings.”

Grosso: “Did they [the charters without a facility now in the lottery] actually identify facilities that they were trying to get into and the city was just unwilling to let go of those facilities or work with them?”

Pearson: “Yes. Statesmen had identified Kenilworth. Digital Pioneers had identified Winston and Davis both.”

Grosso: “But neither went through. OK.”

Sigh.

Last I knew, there are actual laws that prevent Davis or Kenilworth or any other DCPS-owned and operated property legally being offered to a charter school, no matter how “willing” someone is to make it so.

DCPS first has to declare those buildings not needed by DCPS—which as far as anyone knows has not happened for any of those properties mentioned. (Unlike Davis, Kenilworth is actually listed by DCPS in its council responses as owned by DCPS. But rest assured, even if DCPS is unsure, the city still owns Davis. And Winston is also listed as being under DCPS control.)

Moreover, once DGS and the DME determine that the DCPS buildings are not needed by any other city agency, those buildings have to go through a public process outlined in DC code §38-1802.09. That law provides for public meetings to get feedback on RFOs of the buildings to charter schools. Then, once that RFO process is complete (public meetings and all!) and a charter operator selected, the building is approved by the council as surplus.

[Confidential to David Grosso: The laws governing this process are DC code 10-801; DC code 38-2803(e); and DC code 38-1802.09. The last states that “the Chancellor may, at any time, make a request to the Mayor based on the need for additional space as a result of projected enrollment increases to reclaim an excess school facility that has not yet been transferred pursuant to this subsection.” That may come in handy if the council ever reviews and approves the MFP. Oh, and by the way: Kenilworth was already offered (uh, outside legal processes) to Statesmen in 2017—and Statesmen turned it down.]

Such lack of transparency is playing out now with regard to both the lottery and the charter board’s forays into transparency.

For instance, despite the lottery board’s policy of not matching students in the lottery to schools without a secured physical facility after February 8, the reality is that once a facility is secured, the matches are made–so that February 8 deadline is a bit, well, irrelevant. Three of the four charter schools without a facility when the lottery started now have them listed in My School DC: Statesmen (at 4600 Livingston Rd. SE); Digital Pioneers (at 2220 Branch Ave. SE); and Lee Montessori (at 2501 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE–which also happens to currently house DCPS’s Excel school).

Moreover, since the lottery’s deadline is March 29, that becomes the de facto deadline to have matches.

But all of that is rather water under the bridge. To wit:

Thus far this morning, there is no notice on the charter board website of any of those locations housing those schools. (Check out this screen shot taken this morning, at about 10 am, of items open for comment on the charter board website.)

Moreover, a private charter entity is making about $200,000 this school year alone on subletting city-owned former DCPS property (Birney) back to DCPS to house Excel. (Yes: see here for the original leases and here for the sublease with DCPS–difference is about $200,000. See here for how this went down in 2018.) Now that there appears to be an agreement to use that same building for a charter school, Lee, we have apparently no public word from DCPS on what this means for Excel–which is listed on My School DC as being at that same address. (Here’s Lee’s announcement, dated February 26 in my google search.)

Seems the only thing that’s transparent here is that the public is not in the driver’s seat regarding our public school facilities regardless of sector.

One thought on “Hallowed Hallways Or Halfway House? Law Or Lawless? Fun With School Facilities! (Secret Edition)

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