Leases For City-Owned School Buildings (And Clarifying Who Owns And Rents What)

This blog post is intended to be a resource: a (growing) list of currently available leases obtained by FOIA for city-owned school buildings as well as a fact check for charter schools leasing and/or owning buildings.

[Last update: February 5, 2020]

Per this list given to the city council in spring 2019 by the DC public charter school board (PCSB) in response to a council question, 39 former DCPS schools are occupied by charter schools. Also according to this list, nine of those buildings were bought by the charter schools in question, with the rest leased from the city.

Below are a few of those leases, which I obtained via FOIA from DGS, the city agency that handles all city-owned buildings, and PCSB.

For a few roughly contemporaneous leases (Paul: 2013; Taft: 2010; Birney: 2011), a cost comparison is fascinating:

Birney: 77,798 square feet; $733K per year rent; about $9.43/square foot
Taft: 201,14 square feet; $1.150M per year rent; about $5.72/square foot
Paul: 128,400 square feet; $503K per year rent; about $4/square foot

While the Birney leaseholder pays the highest rate, it also has the most freedom to sublet and not pay money back to the city (see below for more information on each of the leases).

Cesar Chavez Prep Middle School (Old Bruce school), 770 Kenyon St. NW: lease and amendments.

For SY20-21, it appears that Meridian will be moving to that location, for rent of $150,000 a year. Recall that Cesar Chavez closed its middle school at that location in 2019. Meridian’s application suggests that Chavez is transferring its lease to Meridian–possibly because the original 30-year lease with Chavez makes clear that a sublet could only be for up to 50% of the space and return to DC 50% of the proceeds. (Presumably, such clauses were inserted in leases to prevent charter schools from operating as landlords.)

Democracy Prep (Old Congress Heights school), 600 Alabama Ave. SE/3100 MLK Jr. Ave. SE: original leases and subleases

Excel (old Birney elementary school), 2501 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE: original leases; sublease to Excel as a DCPS school; sublease to Lee Montessori.

The Birney leaseholder–the charter school incubator initiative, a spinoff of wealthy and connected charter organization Building Hope–made $200,000 from subletting to Excel in SY18-19, as the original lease. As of SY20-21, Excel will be leaving.

Unlike the city’s leases for Taft, Bruce, and Paul, the lease held by the charter school incubator initiative at Birney doesn’t require giving any proceeds of sublets back to the city. It also does not oblige the incubator to get approval of the city for any sublets and has no limitation on how much space it gets to sublet; see article XV.

The Lee sublease asks that the school gives all per pupil facilities fees for its 88 students as rent.

For SY20-21, DC Prep may be at Birney in some fashion, having signed a lease in March 2019 with the charter school incubator initiative. The board materials from the charter board’s meeting in October noted that “DC Prep will lease 13,350 SQ Feet on the first floor of Birney Elementary located at 2501 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave SE Washington, DC 20020. DC Prep signed a lease with Building Pathways on March 27, 2019. The school will house fourth grade in starting in the summer of 2020 and fourth and fifth grades starting the summer of 2021.”

Since then, DC Prep has bought a property, 1619 Frankford St. SE, for that school. It is unclear what is happening now–but my attempts to get the Birney sublease to DC Prep from the charter board have failed. My FOIA in summer 2019 was denied, even though the lease was signed in March 2019. I was told that because the school had not yet opened there, the lease was unavailable via FOIA.

That said, DC Prep board minutes of this discussion state that the rent at Birney “for the first year will be $350K which is $100K above the per pupil allocation we will receive from city. The rent in Year Two is better aligned with the public money we will receive. Dan explained that space is at a premium because of the heavy demand.” The board minutes are available from DC Prep’s charter board application.

Monument Academy (Gibbs school), 500 19th St. NE: original lease

Paul (old Paul Junior High school, also listed as 5901 9th St. NW), 5800 8th St. NW: original lease from 2003; lease from 2013; 2016 lease amendment.

Paul’s original lease from 2003 expired in 2018, but before then they had amended leases, one in 2013 and one in 2016. It appears that Paul’s 2013 lease is much like Taft’s and allows it 25% space in a sublet, as long as the use is educational in some way and approved by DC. And Paul is obliged to give back 40% of its sublet rent to DC. But unlike other leases with the city, Paul’s does not specify what entities can sublet the space. Paul’s lease from 2013 spelled out that it would be $503,000 annually for years 1-5, but then for years 6-10, it would be $0, then would be only $25,000 annually for years 11-25. The 2016 agreement upped that last bit to $63,000 per year–more than $25K, but still a relative bargain.

(Any and all of this may be an artifact of the lease itself, which was between Paul & DCPS; it also noted that if the charter was revoked, the lease terminated immediately. Perhaps most interestingly, DCPS reserved a right in the lease to examine the books of the charter school to ensure that employees were fairly treated.)

Perry Street Prep (old Taft Junior High, 1800 Perry Street NE): original lease (made directly with Hyde charter school, succeeded by Perry Street Prep); 2016 sublet lease to LAMB.

The original lease specifies that the leaseholder has to give 50% of its sublet proceeds to DC and allows a sublet of only up to 30% of the building space, with the approval of the landlord and as long as the use is educational in some way.

Interestingly, a more recent sublet of the Taft school, to St. Jerome high school, is not in the public purview–at least, my attempts to get it via FOIA from the charter board were denied, as the charter board said it didn’t have the lease. Charter board spokesperson Tomeika Bowden noted that the charter board doesn’t have the lease because St. Jerome is a private school. Thus, the charter board does not make all subleases held by charter schools publicly available, but only subleases from one charter school to another charter school, even though in this case the building itself is publicly owned, and the charter school is clearly under some obligation to the city to give back 50% of its sublet proceeds to DC. (Nice loophole if you can get it–we’ll see what my recent FOIA request to DGS for the sublease with St. Jerome provides.)

In its response to the council, PCSB also provided a list of charter schools in “private” facilities. The text accompanying that list makes the claim that charters not in former DCPS buildings are “occupying an additional 64 buildings not owned by DC, often paying higher commercial real estate rents, and paying these rents to commercial landlords rather than to the DC Treasury.”

Yet, 55 of those 64 school buildings are, in fact, not rented from commercial landlords, but either owned by the charter schools in question (24 buildings, or 46% of the 55 and 38% of the 64) OR rented from government agencies, churches, or related nonprofits, per DC real estate records.

Herein is my accounting of ownership for those 55 school buildings:

Academy of Hope 18th Place (owned)
Academy of Hope SE (owned by church)
Appletree Columbia Heights (owned)
Appletree Lincoln Park (owned)
Appletree Oklahoma Ave. (owned by catholic church)
Appletree Douglas Knoll (owned)
Appletree Parklands (owned by US govt.)
BASIS (owned)
Briya Petworth (owned by partner Mary’s Center)
Briya Adams Morgan (owned by partner Mary’s Center)
Carlos Rosario Harvard St. (rented from DC; former DC school bldg.)
Carlos Rosario Sonia Gutierrez (owned by nonprofit created to help Carlos Rosario charter school)
Cedar Tree (owned)
Center City campuses (all owned by catholic churches or nonprofits associated with the Catholic church)
Cesar Chavez Parkside (owned)
Community College Prep “Main” (not clear what this is: the school is renting 2401 MLK SE, which is actually owned by Cedar Tree charter school; the school is also renting a former DCPS school at 3301 Wheeler Rd., owned by DC)
Creative Minds (not clear who they are renting from, but the school is located on land owned by the US government)
DC Prep Anacostia Elementary (owned)
DC Prep Edgewood Elementary (owned)
DC Prep Edgewood Middle (owned)
DC International (owned by DC)
Early Childhood Academy (rented from a baptist church organization; will be moving into a new facility at 885 Barnaby SE in SY19-20, which the school owns)
EL Haynes Georgia Ave. (owned)
Elsie Whitlow Stokes (owned)
Friendship SE (owned)
Friendship Tech Prep (owned)
Harmony (owned by catholic church)
Hope Lamond (owned by an LLC based in Oregon with the name of the charter school)
Hope Tolson (owned by an LLC based in Florida with the name of the charter school)
Howard University Middle School (owned by Howard University)
Ideal Academy (once owned by Ideal and now owned by Friendship charter school, which is taking over the school’s operations starting SY19-20)
KIPP DC Benning (owned)
LAMB (owned by DC)
LAYC Career Academy (owned by the Unification church; same building as YouthBuild)
Lee Montessori (owned by an LLC created out of Building Hope)
Mary McLeod Bethune 16th St. (owned by a presbyterian church)
Richard Wright (owned by an LLC associated with National community church)
Rocketship Rise (owned by an LLC out of Rocketship’s national headquarters in California. In 2015, another LLC–out of the California-based Turner Agassi fund for charter schools–purchased the property, which contained a small house, for $3.3 million. Since Rocketship built its school there, the property’s assessed value is more than $18 million. The May 2019 purchase price was $25.5 million, with the purchase financed by DC revenue bonds issued last year.)
Rocketship Legacy (owned by a Turner Agassi LLC based in California; see above on how ownership of this building will likely play out)
Roots Kennedy St. (owned by LLC based in the home of the school’s founder)
Roots North Capitol (owned by the school’s founder)
Shining Stars Montessori (owned by Howard University)
St. Coletta (owned by DC–but not exactly how the school sees it)
The Next Step (owned)
Two Rivers 4th St. elementary (owned)
Two Rivers 4th St. middle (owned)
Washington Leadership Academy (owned by a nonprofit based at the same address as Building Hope and the beneficiary of city revenue bonds approved last year)
Yu Ying (owned)
YouthBuild (owned by the Unification church; same building as LAYC)

Here are the (few) schools on that list of 64 that are renting from what appears to be an actual commercial landlord:

Breakthrough Montessori
Eagle Academy capitol riverfront (lease ending SY19-20)
Chavez capitol hill (now closed)
City arts (now closed)
Goodwill Excel
Meridian 14th street (owned by a commercial LLC)
Sela (owned by an LLC associated with Douglas Development)
Washington Global (owned by an LLC based in Florida)

(Additionally, the Children’s Guild is owned by an LLC based in DC–which itself is based in a DC property owned by an LLC based in California, so it is unclear if this owner is a corporation or a nonprofit and if it is related to the school itself.)

Here are some totals, extrapolating from the 2019 list given to the city council by PCSB:

103: # of buildings occupied by charter schools in DC per the PCSB accounting given to the council in spring 2019 (64 + 39)

39: # of those buildings that are former DCPS schools

9: # of those former DCPS schools owned by charter schools

64: # of charter buildings listed by PCSB as “private” facilities, where the schools are “often paying higher commercial rents” to “commercial landlords”

55: # of those 64 charter buildings above that are actually not owned by “commercial landlords,” but owned by government agencies, churches, or nonprofits, including the charter schools themselves

24: # of those 55 charter buildings above that are owned by the charter schools themselves (i.e., 38% of all charter buildings that are not former DCPS spaces–24 out of 64–are owned by the schools themselves)

7: # of those 55 charter properties above that are owned by DC (5) or the US government (2)

33: # of charter buildings owned by the schools themselves (9 former DCPS schools plus 24 others). By this accounting, charters in DC own 32% of all charter buildings (i.e., 33 out of 103)–which should only grow, as some charters are soon to expand to new facilities they already own (i.e., Eagle, Early Childhood) or are likely to own those facilities soon (i.e., Rocketship)

(Hmm: Makes you wonder about that propaganda concerning charter waitlists and the oft-stated desire for more DCPS buildings . . . .)

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